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Over the weekend, the Senate failed to approve the so-called DREAM Act, a measure that would have given some young illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, it now appears unlikely that there will be any change to immigration laws in the foreseeable future.
RICHARD GONZALES: Twenty-two-year-old Pedro Ramirez was a toddler when his parents brought him to this country. But it wasn't until his junior year in high school that he learned they had brought him here illegally. That news disrupted his plans to enlist in the service.
Mr. PEDRO RAMIREZ: That was one of my first choice - to serve in some service, some branch of the military. And a lot of my friends were doing it, so I was hoping to join them.
GONZALES: But he couldn't join the military, so he opted for college. The DREAM Act would have opened the possibility of citizenship to young people like Ramirez who were brought here before the age of 16. They would be required to either go to college or join the military and stay out of trouble as a condition for getting legal residency.
But the bill was defeated. Five Senate Democrats from swing states joined a majority of Republicans in preventing a floor vote where the bill was expected to pass with a simple majority. For Ramirez, the vote came as a bitter lesson.
Mr. RAMIREZ: The Republicans filibustered it pretty much, but I also blame the Democratic Party for not getting all its members in line.
GONZALES: Ramirez is student body president of the California State University, Fresno. He's one of thousands of illegal immigrants from across the country who mobilized for the vote. They marched and rallied. Some held hunger strikes. Others lobbied the Senate, all in the hope of drawing attention to their status.
Mr. RAMIREZ: All now we can really do is prepare for the next Congress and keep pushing it. And definitely prepare for 2012 when election season comes around and those senators that voted against it, you know, we'll keep them accountable.
GONZALES: Opponents of the DREAM Act praised the Senate and said now it can move on to more important immigration matters. Ira Mehlman is a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Mr. IRA MEHLMAN (Media Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform): The Senate recognized that amnesty for illegal aliens is not popular with the American public, that what the public really wants is for them to address the economic issues, that they will honor previous commitments to secure our borders, to really deal with the causes of illegal immigration rather than simply rewarding people who break our laws.
GONZALES: In the aftermath of the vote, Latino activists say they are bruised but not beaten. They can still show majority support in the House and Senate, says Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Mr. THOMAS SAENZ (President, Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund): A bill that has that kind of momentum will not go away. Even if a minority of the United States Senate failed to see that. It is an idea whose time has come and it will stick around until it is enacted.
GONZALES: The DREAM Act has been sticking around Congress for a decade now and in its original form it had strong bi-partisan support. But it's a much harder sell in a recession and that job will be considerably more difficult as republicans take control of the House next year.
As for Pedro Ramirez, he will graduate with a degree in political science this spring. He says he plans to get a graduate degree in business administration. What's not clear is how he will be able to work before legalizing his status.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News.
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