On Spouses and Marriage

Chris Strohm
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Chris Strohm
Feb. 12, 2014, 12:15 p.m.

Without enough votes firmly in hand, Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers know they face an up­hill battle to pass an im­mig­ra­tion meas­ure next week that would en­able young adults in the coun­try il­leg­ally to be­come cit­izens.

But law­makers and im­mig­ra­tion ex­perts said Wed­nes­day that even if the ab­rupt cam­paign to pass the bill goes down in flames, it still could boost turnout at the vot­ing booths for Demo­crats in Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions and blunt Re­pub­lic­an at­tempts to take over one or both cham­bers of Con­gress.

It was no ac­ci­dent that the hot-but­ton is­sue of im­mig­ra­tion re­form has been thrust back in­to the pub­lic spot­light just be­fore Novem­ber’s elec­tions. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Re­id, who faces a tough re-elec­tion bid, prom­ised voters in his home state of Nevada in April that an over­haul of im­mig­ra­tion laws would be a top pri­or­ity this year.

Re­id an­nounced Tues­day that he wants to at­tach the DREAM Act to the FY11 de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill when it is brought to the Sen­ate floor next week.

The meas­ure, which his­tor­ic­ally has had bi­par­tis­an sup­port, would cre­ate a path to­ward cit­izen­ship for young il­leg­al im­mig­rants who were brought to the coun­try as minors. Un­der the bill, they would be eli­gible if they have gradu­ated from U.S. high schools and gone to col­lege or served in the mil­it­ary for at least two years.

“We be­lieve as a first test of our com­mit­ment to [im­mig­ra­tion re­form] that this is about as pure as one can get in the over­all im­mig­ra­tion de­bate,” Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J., chair­man of the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, told an im­mig­ra­tion rally Wed­nes­day.

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Men­en­dez is sched­uled to meet today with Pres­id­ent Obama, along with Con­gres­sion­al His­pan­ic Caucus Chair­wo­man Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez, D-Ill., to dis­cuss strategy for ad­van­cing im­mig­ra­tion re­forms.

Scrub­bing the num­bers of likely votes for the DREAM Act re­veals why next week’s push for im­mig­ra­tion re­form might fail.

In Oc­to­ber 2007, the last time the bill was brought to the floor, the Sen­ate voted 52-44 in a failed at­tempt to cut off de­bate, a res­ult that killed the meas­ure in the 110th Con­gress. Eight mod­er­ate to con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats jumped ranks and would not sup­port end­ing de­bate. Only one of them is now gone, the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

Con­versely, 12 Re­pub­lic­ans crossed party lines to vote for clo­ture, but five of them are no longer in of­fice.

Men­en­dez said he ex­pects 59 votes in sup­port of adding the DREAM Act to the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill next week, from the en­tire Demo­crat­ic Caucus and in­de­pend­ent Ver­mont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That would mean at least one Re­pub­lic­an would be needed.

“We’re in crunch time,” said one im­mig­ra­tion ad­voc­ate. “We’ve got less than a week be­fore something comes up for a vote.”

But some Re­pub­lic­ans who sup­por­ted the DREAM Act in the past, such as Sens. Or­rin Hatch of Utah, John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Ari­zona, have thrown cold wa­ter on the idea of adding the im­mig­ra­tion meas­ure to the de­fense bill, which au­thor­izes Pentagon spend­ing and sets policy for the mil­it­ary.

“The DREAM Act should be a part of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” Cornyn said Wed­nes­day.

“Adding it to the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion, which already con­tains an un­war­ran­ted re­peal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ is cyn­ic­al and trans­par­ently polit­ic­al,” he said, re­fer­ring to the law bar­ring gays from serving openly in the mil­it­ary. “Sen­at­or Re­id said just [Tues­day] that job cre­ation should be Con­gress’ top pri­or­ity, and I agree with him on that. I fail to see how his ac­tions meet that goal.”

A spokes­wo­man for Hatch ad­ded: “Sen­at­or Hatch doesn’t sup­port cyn­ic­al polit­ic­al stunts. This de­fense bill shouldn’t be held host­age to con­tro­ver­sial meas­ures.”

For now, im­mig­ra­tion re­form ad­voc­ates are look­ing to a hand­ful of Re­pub­lic­ans who have crossed party lines re­cently, such as Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Sen. Scott Brown of Mas­sachu­setts. They also said Sen. Sam Brown­back, R-Kan., might provide a cru­cial vote in fa­vor of the DREAM Act since he is not run­ning for re-elec­tion.

“It is im­per­at­ive that we fix the broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem; get­ting the policy right should trump the polit­ics,” said Al­berto Carde­n­as, head of Amer­ic­ans for Im­mig­ra­tion Re­form, a group of busi­ness lead­ers who sup­port changes to im­mig­ra­tion law.

“If the plan is to ad­dress this is­sue with an in­cre­ment­al and sens­ible ap­proach, then that mes­sage should be made clear and ar­tic­u­lated with a le­gis­lat­ive timeline,” he ad­ded. “If the ex­cuse is that com­pre­hens­ive le­gis­la­tion should be in­tro­duced and ad­dressed to avoid do­ing any­thing then we have clearly run out the clock on our best op­tion, as Con­gress will break for the elec­tion.”

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