On Spouses and Marriage

Chris Strohm
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
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.

{{ BIZOBJ (photo:203) }}

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.”

What We're Following See More »
Sen. Cochran Back to Washington Tuesday
40 minutes ago
Federal Judge Temporarily Stops Trump’s Travel Ban
1 hours ago

"A federal district court in Hawaii has temporarily blocked the third iteration of President Trump's travel ban. Judge Derrick Watson said the new targeted restrictions on travel from eight countries Trump issued on Sept. 24 suffers the same problems as the previous order."

Trump Leaning Towards Alex Azar for HHS
1 hours ago

"President Donald Trump is leaning toward nominating Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and George W. Bush administration official, to serve as Health and Human Services secretary, according to two White House officials...Azar is a veteran of HHS. He served as the department’s general counsel and deputy secretary during the Bush administration." He led Eli Lilly's U.S. operations from 2012-17.

Senators Reach Bipartisan ACA Deal
2 hours ago

"Sen. Lamar Alexander says he and Sen. Patty Murray have reached a deal to fund the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing subsidies in exchange for giving states more regulatory flexibility with the law." Axios is watching to see if the deal will gather support.

Dow Jones Hits 23,000 Threshold
4 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.