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How Dead an Issue is Immigration?

October 23, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: Dead. The Senate just failed to move forward with The DREAM Act by a vote of 52-44. Sixty votes were needed to reopen the immigration debate.

After two bitter months of debating immigration reform this spring it was clear that no deal on a comprehensive bill could be struck among the current cast in Congress. But Senate Democrats are about to test the waters once again to see if they can float separately some of the original bill’s bits and pieces.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether or not to proceed to debate a bill known as The DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some children who were brought here illegally at a young age. Since not all senators have agreed to even consider the bill, this initial vote, known as cloture, requires the Senate to muster a 60-vote majority to override any objections and proceed to debate. It is expected to be a very close vote.

The DREAM Act is designed to open more options to individuals who have been limited by their parents’ decision to immigrate to the U.S. illegally. It would immediately allow about 360,000 illegal immigrants between the ages of 18 and 24 who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and who have graduated from high school or obtained a GED to receive a six-year conditional legal status. If those who qualify go on to attend college in good standing for at least two years or join the military within the six-year period, they become eligible to apply for permanent legal status.

The bill is being used as a litmus test to see if the potential is there for the Senate to pass other immigration-related measures that are supported by industry interests. “If we can’t make progress with children, then I don’t know how the business community thinks they get AgJobs. I don’t know how the business community thinks they get H-1B. I don’t know how the business community thinks they get H-2B and a whole host of other things,” said Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

By an large, senators, citizens and advocacy groups that opposed the comprehensive immigration bill in the spring also oppose the DREAM Act, which they say “shares many of the worst attributes.” The Heritage Foundation, for example, says that it “does nothing to enhance immigration and border enforcement, undermines the rule of law, and would encourage further illegal entry and unlawful presence in the United States.” They also argue that it would “would discriminate against U.S. citizens from out of state and law-abiding foreign students,” by making applicants eligible for in-state tuition and that, since it places no limits on how many (or when) applicants can apply, it is fraught for abuse.

But Dick Durbin (D-IL), the bill’s primary sponsor, sees it as a mutually beneficial plan. “When I hear some describe this bill as amnesty, I wonder, if someone is willing to risk his or her life to serve in our military in a combat zone, is that a giveaway? If they go to college and become future nurses, future teachers, future doctors, scientists, and engineers, doesn’t that make our country an even richer place?” said Durbin. “We can allow a generation of immigrant students with great potential and ambitions to contribute more fully to our society and national security, or we can relegate them to a future in the shadows, which would be a loss for all Americans."

NumbersUSA, a public policy organization that has been influential in the downfall of all immigration legislation so far in the 110th Congress, has put up a list of phone numbers to senators’ offices and some info on where they stand on the bill. Whether you support the bill or oppose it, you can use the information they make available to call your senators and tell them how you want them to vote.

If you’re looking on OpenCongress for more background on the bill, be sure to check out the page for the bill as it was originally introduced as well as its current incarnation linked to above.

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