Analysis: Why Immigration Reform Isn't a Guarantee

"He did find ten minutes of his time to come tell us that what we're doing is frustrating for him," said Yadira Alvarez, a hunger striker who spoke to ABC News. According to the group, Schumer said he needed more co-sponsors to introduce a comprehensive bill in the Senate, a position he had also stated publicly at that time. Alvarez wanted more: "We're tired of promises and we're tired of waiting."

Immigrant rights groups mobilized behind the DREAM Act, which would have put hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship. If comprehensive immigration reform couldn't get off the ground, maybe a piece of it could.

The DREAM Act didn't inspire the sort of dogfight that defined the battle over Obamacare, not because Republicans supported it (they didn't) but because Democrats -- many facing tough re-election bids -- weren't willing to risk political capital for it. To wit: the bill wasn't introduced until the lame duck session of Congress, and it was tacked on to a military spending bill, along with a hopeful but unlikely repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Observers gave it slim odds of passage.

As the DREAM Act vote approached, the president spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a "down payment" on immigration reform. But unlike the healthcare battle, Obama wasn't able, or willing, to marshal the troops. When Republicans used a technique known as a filibuster to block the DREAM Act in the Senate, the Democrats fell short of advancing the bill by four votes.

Two Democrats voted against it, as did Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who did so for technical reasons once he realized it wouldn't pass. One Republican vote may have shifted the tide, but the president wasn't able to get it.

The DREAM Act defeat marked the end of any serious talk about immigration reform. With Republicans retaking the House in 2011, and eyeing the White House two years down the road, major bipartisan legislation was effectively off the table. The next opportunity for a reform bill wouldn't be until 2013, at the earliest.

The 2012 election season put immigration back in the spotlight. Romney struggled to combat abysmal support among Latino voters, but when asked about 12 million people living in the shadows, he only went as far as saying, "I am not going to be going around the country and rounding them up." A path to citizenship was not offered as part of his platform.

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