Democrats have packed the hearing room for the first-ever DREAM Act testimony. More than 200 people are in the room, including many students, who say they are undocumented and pushing for the passage of the bill. The bill would grant a path to citizenship for children brought to the United States illegally.
The bill has little chance of passing the Senate, but Democrats' theory might as well be if at first (or second or third or fourth) you fail, try, try again. It failed in December 2010, 55-41, unable to garner enough support to overcome a filibuster.
And that was when Democrats had a wider majority. Yet Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), an Obama ally, has reintroduced it and has 34 sponsors. Democratic leadership aides acknowledge it has little chance at passage, but today's hearing was congressional Democrats' and the Obama administration's latest push to bring attention to the issue, one they believe benefits them politically.
A large number of those undocumented students are Hispanic, and 2010 Census data shows them to be the largest-growing group in the country. They are vital to President Obama's 2012 reelection chances.
Testimony today became snippy at times, particularly between Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) -- who opposes the bill -- and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former border-state governor.
At one point, Cornyn interrupted Napolitano, accusing her of not answering his question.
"I thought I was answering your question," she responded.
"Well, you're not," Cornyn shot back with a smile.
He moved on to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who argued passing the DREAM Act would help decrease U.S. debt and deficits -- based on the Congressional Budget Office's analysis -- and that, "We need as much talent as we can get."
The administration's argument today on this issue is three-fold: economic, educational, and security.
“This is an investment, not an expense," Duncan contended.
Napolitano argued that Homeland Security would be better served, redirecting their resources on criminals, not students who are trying to learn.
"Over the past two years," Napolitano said in her opening statement, "we have focused enforcement resources on identifying criminal aliens and those who pose the greatest security threats to our communities. The DREAM Act supports these important priorities because only individuals of good moral character who have not committed any crime that would make them inadmissible to the United States would be eligible for DREAM Act relief."