Senate Republicans on Saturday doomed an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.
Sponsors of the so-called DREAM Act fell five votes short of the 60 they needed to break through largely Republican opposition and win its enactment before Republicans take over the House and narrow Democrats’ majority in the Senate next month.
President Barack Obama called the vote “incredibly disappointing.”
“A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is best for the country,” Obama said. “There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation.”
Dozens of immigrants wearing graduation mortarboards watched from the Senate’s vistor gallery, disappointment on their faces, as the 55-41 vote was announced.
“This is a dark day in America,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. “The Senate has … thrown under the bus the lives and hard work of thousands and thousands of students who love this country like their own home, and, in fact, they have no other home.”
Hispanic activists and immigrant advocates had looked to the bill as a down payment on what they had hoped would be broader action by President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress to give the nation’s 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants a chance to gain legal status.
It targeted the most sympathetic of the millions of undocumented people — those brought to the United States as children, who in many cases consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to or family living in their native countries.
“They stand in the classrooms and pledge allegiance to our flag,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the main sponsor of the bill. “This is the only country they have ever known. All they’re asking for is a chance to serve this nation.”
Critics called the bill a backdoor grant of amnesty that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the United States in hopes of being legalized eventually.
“Treating the symptons of the problem might make us feel better … but it can allow the underlying problem to metastasize,” said Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. “Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening at our border.”
Democrats’ determination to vote on it before year’s end reflected the party’s efforts to satisfy Hispanic groups whose backing has been critical in recent elections and will be again in 2012.
The legislation would have provided a route to legal status for an estimated 1 million to 2 million illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, who have been here for five years, graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree, and who join the military or attend college.
Democrats’ determination to vote on the bill before year’s end reflected the party’s efforts to satisfy Hispanic groups whose backing has been critical in recent elections and will be again in 2012. They said they will try again in the next Congress, despite the increased Republican presence.
“The echo of this vote will be loud and long,” said Democratic Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, a key House sponsor of the bill. “We are at the tipping point that will define the political alignment of the Republican and Democratic parties with Latino voters for a generation.”
“This country has a history of opening its arms,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. “Today, it’s arms were closed, but we’re going to get there.”
Three Republicans joined 50 Democrats and the Senate’s two independents in voting for the bill. Five Democrats joined 36 Republicans in blocking it. Four senators did not vote.