Updated at 3:37 pm Friday
The fate of thousands of illegal immigrant children and young adults will be determined Saturday in a Senate vote on whether they can convert to legal status. They are likely to be disappointed, but there is an outside chance that enough Republicans who have supported the idea will buck their party leaders and let the Dream Act become law.
The bill has already passed the House. On Saturday, the measure needs the support of 60 senators to be approved (it fell short in 2007) and sent to the White House. It would allow undocumented immigrants up to the age of 30 who meet certain requirements to apply for legal status; the criteria are tough, and approval isn’t guaranteed. The idea is to give children who came to the United States with their parents and have lived here most of their lives the chance to prove they can be citizens.
This is the closest the immigration movement has come in years to securing some form of legal status for undocumented foreigners, who now number about 12 million. Advocates have been unrelenting in pressuring lawmakers since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced in September that he wanted to vote on the Dream Act this year. The White House has become more vocal as well, hosting press calls almost daily with a variety of administration officials touting the Dream Act’s advantages.
No matter what happens on Saturday, the immigrant advocacy and Hispanic communities have made their point: They aren’t going away. As 2012 campaign season rolls around, expect to hear a lot from these folks.
Most Republicans are staunchly opposed to the Dream Act, arguing it would open the doors to broader legalization of undocumented parents and siblings. Multiple GOP press releases riff on the bill’s title, changing “Dream” to “Nightmare.”
The Senate Republicans on the hot seat -- those who have voted for it in the past or are considered possible “yes” votes because of heavy Hispanic constituencies -- are likely to use process-oriented reasons for voting “no” this time. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., told National Journal earlier this week that he wouldn’t consider anything until a spending bill had passed. That spending measure is still being negotiated, with a stopgap funding bill in the works to avert a government shutdown. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who sponsored a similar bill in the past, has said he won’t vote for it this time because Republicans won’t have the opportunity to amend it. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who voted for the bill in 2007, will vote no on Saturday, her office said.
Among other Republicans to watch is George LeMieux of Florida, who might not want to tick off the large Hispanic population in his state. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine also voted for the Dream Act in the past, and they are likely among the small group of GOP members to continue to support it. Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Robert Bennett of Utah also voted for it.
This article appears in the December 17, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.