WASHINGTON – A last-ditch Democratic effort to establish a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants failed in the Senate on Saturday, likely derailing any attempt at sweeping immigration reform in Congress for the foreseeable future.
The bill, known as the Dream Act, had passed the House, and its advocates and Democratic sponsors hoped that they could muster enough Republican votes to bring the legislation to the floor. Instead, it fell victim to a GOP filibuster, one in which a handful of Democrats also blocked the bill. The final tally was 55-41.
Dozens of young activists crowded the galleries above the Senate floor in support of the bill, many wearing college graduation mortarboards. Some held hands as senators cast their votes.
In a statement after the vote, President Barack Obama called the result “incredibly disappointing.”
The act would have allowed those brought to this country before age 16 to attain legal residency and perhaps eventually citizenship if they lived here more than five years and attended college or served in the military. Opponents derided it as a form of amnesty. Experts said that about 1.2 million immigrants would have taken advantage of the legislation.
Some form of the legislation, known formally as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, has existed on Capitol Hill for a decade, but Democratic leaders viewed this vote as a last, best chance to pass it before Republicans take control of the House next month and gain additional seats in the Senate.
But Democrats couldn’t even hold their own caucus together Saturday. Five joined Republicans in the filibuster, including Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Had all five voted the other way, the bill would have reached the Senate floor and could have passed by a simple majority vote.
After the vote, Democrats were, at turns, rueful and defiant. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Latino voters would seek retribution at the ballot box, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would push to have the measure included in some attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in the next Congress.
Republicans charged that Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who pledged during his re-election campaign to push the act forward, knew they didn’t have the votes for passage and instead simply were using the occasion to score political points with Latino voters.
Others such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the bill’s youthful supporters that “you are wasting your time” trying to persuade Republicans to support the bill absent a greater commitment to securing the U.S. border with Mexico.
“We’re not going to pass the Dream Act or any other legalization program until we secure our borders,” Graham said. “It will never be done as a stand-alone. It has to be part of comprehensive immigration reform.”