After DREAM Vote, Immigration Reform Unlikely This Year

Hopes of reforming the immigration system this year ended on Saturday.

Democrats came five voes short of passing the DREAM Act, which would give young illegal immigrants the chance to obtain green cards by going to college or serving in the military.

Trying to overcome the 60-vote threshold to end debate and advance to a final vote, Democrats came up short. What's perhaps most troubling is that five Democrats voted against the bill. They were:
  • Jon Tester (MT)
  • Max Baucus (MT)
  • Kay Hagan (NC)
  • Ben Nelson (NE)
  • Mark Pryor (AR)
Three Republicans voted in favor of it:
  • Bob Bennett (UT)
  • Dick Lugar (IN)
  • Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Four senators did not vote:
  • Jim Bunning (R-KY)
  • Judd Gregg (R-NH)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV)
There is little chance that the DREAM Act will come back for a vote before the year is over. "If you aren't going to vote for it now, there is no reason to think you would vote for it later on," said one Senate aide.

Time has run short on immigration reform during Democrats' time in power in Washington. Though President Obama promised swift movement toward comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office, chances of comprehensive reform waned as the time and political energy of Washington were sapped by the stimulus, health care reform, energy reform, and financial reform.

At least one of the Democratic "no" votes was motivated by philosophical opposition to the bill. "Illegal immigration is a critical problem facing our country, but amnesty is not the solution.  I do not support legislation that provides a path to citizenship for anyone in this country illegally," Tester said yesterday.

If passed, the bill would open the door for young illegal immigrants to obtain green cards after a 10-year waiting period. After an initial grace period for immigrants under 30 to apply for DREAM Act status after the bill's enactment, illegal immigrants would have one year from the date they graduate high school or earn a GED to pay a $525 application fee and seek "conditional nonimmigrant" status while they attempting to complete two years of college or serve two years in the military, without the benefit of Pell grants, in-state tuition, and other forms of federal student aid other than loans. They would have to prove they entered the country at age 15 or younger, were contiguous U.S. residents for five years, and have no significant criminal record, among other requirements. After five years, they would pay a $2,000 application fee to apply for continued "conditional nonimmigrant" status. During this phase, they would not be eligible for health care subsidies under Obama's new reform law. After 10 years, they could apply for a green card and permanent legal residency, provided they completed the two years of college or military service in good standing.

U.S. immigration officials were planning on an initial wave of 700,000 eligible applicants, based on outside estimates.

The door, it seems, has closed on immigration reform for the time being. With the last push for comprehensive reform failing in 2007, the DREAM Act was an interim half-step that could have provided reform advocates with something significant, yet short of a comprehensive bill.

If immigration reform is to happen in the next two years, the administration will have to work it out with a GOP-led House.

Thumbnail image credit: DreamActivist/Flickr
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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