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By SCOTT WONG | 11/30/10 5:16 PM EST
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would file a motion Tuesday so the Senate could take up the DREAM Act, setting up a showdown over the immigration bill that would provide some young, undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reid vowed earlier this month to hold votes on the standalone immigration bill during the lame-duck session. But Reid has been unable to hold together his 58-member caucus, and it’s uncertain if he’ll be able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
Already, Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said they will not vote for cloture on the bill. But Republican Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana and Bob Bennett, who was defeated in his Utah primary race, have signaled they will vote for the DREAM Act.
At this point, pro-immigration activists, Reid and other Democrats are courting a handful of other moderate Republicans, including Sens. George Lemieux (Fla.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Scott Brown (Mass.).
Lemieux, who is retiring from the Senate, told POLITICO on Tuesday that Democrats couldn’t count on his vote until a deal is reached on extending Bush-era tax cuts and the border is secured.
“There are ways to stop illegal immigration,” said Lemieux, who recently toured the Arizona-Mexico border with Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). “If we could do a significant border security measure, then I’d be willing to talk about the situation of these kids who are brought here through no fault of their own. But until we do that, I’m not supportive.”
Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for Brown, indicated his opposition: "Senator Brown is opposed to illegal immigration and is opposed to amnesty. The DREAM Act is backdoor amnesty. Senator Brown believes that reforms should be made to streamline the process for those who are seeking citizenship through the legal-and-proper channels."
The DREAM Act, sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would open up a channel for citizenship to immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children. To qualify for legalization, immigrants must have entered the U.S. before age 16, lived in the country at least five consecutive years before the bill’s enactment; been admitted to a college or earned a high-school diploma or GED certificate; and should have no serious criminal record.
Those who receive conditional resident status would need to attend college or serve in the military at least two years. More than 2.1 million illegal immigrants could be eligible to apply for legal status under the DREAM Act, but only about 825,000 would likely receive citizenship, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has been heading up GOP opposition to the bill, arguing that it offers “amnesty” to those who have broken the law and encourages more illegal immigration.
Reid’s cloture motion comes as the Obama administration, immigration advocates and some faith leaders engage in a full-court press to pass the bill. Cabinet members, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, have been lobbying lawmakers and speaking with reporters, urging passage of the DREAM Act. And Hispanic and immigration groups are targeting moderate and retiring senators.
“The issue is being taken seriously by both sides of the aisle,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which backs the DREAM Act and advocates for immigrant rights. “This is really going to come down to: Are Republicans going to stand in the way of the DREAM Act? The ball is very much in their court, and the country’s fastest-growing electorate is watching them very closely.”