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DREAM Act punted, faces uphill battle in Senate

After previously scheduling a procedural vote for this morning, the Senate has again pushed back a vote to take up legislation to allow a path to U.S. citizenship for some foreign-born young adults who came to the country illegally as children.

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called a vote at the last minute to “table” or kill the Senate version of the vote Thursday, with the intention of taking up the House version of similar legislation later this month. That motion passed, setting the bill aside.

The bill narrowly passed the House last night, 216-198, but Democrats face a difficult challenge to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate. A similar test vote in the Senate in September failed 52-44. (Democrats need 60 votes to move the legislation forward.)

The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act would allow those with a high school diploma or a GED to apply for conditional U.S. status if they are under the age of 30 and arrived the U.S. before the age of 16. After a long process -- including two years of service in the military or enrollment in college -- they would then be eligible to apply for legal immigrant status.

Republican critics call the measure “amnesty.” Speaking on the Senate floor earlier this week, GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama branded the bill “an immediate reward for the illegal entry, and there is no serious plan to stop the illegal flow—indeed, the legislation incentivizes it.” Sessions notes that the bill would allow some illegal immigrants with criminal records to gain citizenship and that it would offer job and educational opportunities not available to citizens who have always followed the law. “In short, this bill would be a disaster,” he said.

But many Democrats say that the law would be good for the country as a whole. In a statement after the bill passed the House, President Barack Obama called it “the right thing for the United States of America” as well as for “talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own.”

“The rule of law must be conditioned by justice and fairness and compassion,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s task force on immigration and a key backer of the DREAM act. He urged his colleagues to change current immigration rules that are “unfair” to young foreign-born adults living in this country.

Despite its challenges in the upper chamber, the debate on the DREAM Act allows Democrats to vocally back a proposal favored by a fast-growing block of Hispanic voters. Last year, census data showed that number of Hispanic voters surged 28 percent between the 2004 and 2008 election. Barack Obama won two-thirds of Latino voters in the 2008 election.