WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bill offering young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they served in the military or completed two years of higher education. The defeat of the measure, which had attracted bipartisan support, underscored the difficulty of enacting even a narrowly tailored proposal in the atmosphere surrounding immigration reform.
The proposal failed 52-44, short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster and begin debate. It was one small piece of a comprehensive immigration bill that collapsed in the Senate earlier this year.
Opponents called the bill a form of “amnesty” and argued that it would create incentives for illegal immigrants to cross the border with their children. But Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who supported the measure, said that “to turn on these children and treat them as criminals is an indication of the level of emotion and, in some cases, bigotry and hatred that is involved in this debate.”
The debate on Capitol Hill suggested that the public outrage kicked up last summer, when the Senate considered comprehensive immigration reform, was still driving the political agenda.
Proponents of the DREAM Act – the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – had hoped it would be one of several less-ambitious changes to the nation’s immigration laws to pass this year. But Wednesday’s defeat signaled that any further attempts to help illegal immigrants might have to be balanced with action to increase border security or enforcement.
“All of America’s awake on this one,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., suggesting amnesty was the end game of the measure that failed Wednesday.
The DREAM Act would give conditional legal status to illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States at least five years and entered the country before age 16. They must graduate from high school, have no criminal record and have a “good moral character.”
If these immigrants serve in the military or complete two years of higher education, the conditional status would be lifted. After five years, they could apply for citizenship.