Nation/World

Immigration bill advances in Congress

Senate could take up DREAM Act on Friday

The House of Representatives voted to pass the DREAM Act on Wednesday night, catapulting to the Senate a bill that would offer a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States when they were children.

“This is about a commitment to our future,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking after more than an hour of emotional debate among lawmakers on Wednesday night. “It’s about a recognition of what these young people can mean for our country.”

The DREAM Act would give conditional green cards to undocumented immigrants if they graduate from high school and pursue a college education or military service. After a 10-year waiting period, they could obtain permanent residency if they met all the requirements, and they could eventually apply for citizenship.

The 216-198 vote fell largely on partisan lines, though 38 Democrats voted against it and eight Republicans voted for it.

The Senate vote could happen as early as Friday morning, but the bill faces a bigger hurdle there because it must get a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 votes.

Beneficiaries would have to be under 30 years old to qualify and must have arrived in the country before their 16th birthday. According to the House version voted on Wednesday, they would also pay $2,525 in fees for the privilege of legal residency – $525 to apply, and $2,000 five years later to extend the conditional visa.

Republicans complained that House Democrats were trying to ram the bill through in the lame-duck session, not giving lawmakers enough time to review changes and amendments that had been made in recent days. Most of the amendments made the bill more strict. Many also warned that the bill would invite fraudulent applications, and would encourage more illegal immigration.

Many of the House Republicans who condemned the bill the most forcefully Wednesday argued it would unfairly harm U.S. citizens who would face more competition from newly legalized immigrants in college admissions, federal loans, work-study programs and the work force.

Spending

House Democrats muscled through legislation that would freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments and fund the war in Afghanistan for another year. The bill would cap the agencies’ annual operating budgets at the $1.2 trillion approved for the recently finished budget year – a $46 billion cut of more than 3 percent from Obama’s request. It includes $159 billion to prosecute the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq next year. The 423-page measure, opposed by Republicans, conservative Democrats and some anti-war lawmakers, narrowly passed by a 212-206 vote.

Social Security

Republicans in the House and Senate succeeded in blocking a measure supported by the White House and Democrats that would have given a one-time check of $250 to seniors who are facing a second straight year in 2011 without a Social Security cost-of-living increase. Republicans said the $14 billion price tag was too high a cost in an age of mounting federal deficits.

Medicare

The Senate approved by voice vote a measure to avoid a steep cut in Medicare pay for doctors by shifting money from President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law. Without the legislation, doctors would see a 25 percent cut in Medicare payments as of Jan. 1, a reduction that many doctors have said will force them to stop seeing Medicare patients.

Food safety

Sweeping legislation that aims to make food safer in the wake of E. coli and salmonella outbreaks in peanuts, eggs and produce passed the House. The bill, which would give the government broad new powers to increase inspections of food processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food, goes to the Senate as part of a giant year-end budget bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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