Senate Republicans today blocked a controversial immigration measure that would have provided a conditional path to legal residency for hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants first brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
By a vote of 55 to 41, the bill -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act -- failed to win the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster, even though the measure passed the House last week.
The defeat was the second for the legislation since 2007, when it last was brought to the Senate floor. Opponents have argued that the bill amounted to an "amnesty" that could cost taxpayers and encourage continued illegal immigration.
"We are declaring a 10-year victory," said Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, an advocacy group that has lobbied against the DREAM Act. "Since 2001, there has been an attempt to pass giant amnesties every year. And we have been on defense, we have fought every single year. And now there's not going to be any amnesty in this new Congress. It's over."
Supporters of the DREAM Act had said it would bring out of the shadows a fraction of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants who have known only the United States as home, enhance military recruitment and give American employers access to a talented and highly-motivated pool of young workers.
Only immigrants younger than 30 who entered the United States before age 16, have lived here five years without a serious criminal offense, graduated high school or earned a GED and attend college or join the military among other requirements, would be eligible for legal residency.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates between 300,000 and 500,000 undocumented immigrants could benefit from the DREAM Act.
President Obama said in a statement that he was "incredibly disappointed" by the vote.
"It is disappointing that common sense did not prevail today," he said. "But my administration will not give up on the DREAM Act, or on the important business of fixing our broken immigration system. The American people deserve a serious debate on immigration, and it's time to take the polarizing rhetoric off our national stage."
But many Republicans, including six who voted for the measure in 2007, expressed skepticism of any show of leniency towards undocumented immigrants without enhanced immigration enforcement provisions. They say the bill rewards criminal behavior and could cost taxpayers millions of dollars while doing little to address the lagging U.S. economy.
"This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity," Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., claimed that Senate Democrats were only pushing the bill so late in this session of Congress for their own political gain.
"To those who are bringing this bill up today, I know why you're doing it. You're not doing it to advance the issue. You're doing it to advance your situation politically," Graham said.
The bill's projected cost or benefit to taxpayers had become a focal point on both sides of the debate ahead of the expected vote.