A bill granting children of illegal immigrants legal status died in the Senate today. Senators voted 52-44 to limit debate on the DREAM Act which would have provided children of illegals a path to citizenship as long as they enlisted in the military or attended two years of college.
Sixty votes were needed to break a filibuster by opponents.
The DREAM Act (that's the Development, Education, Relief for Alien Minors) was the first of two piecemeal stabs by Congress at the issue of immigration reform. Congress has twice-failed in the past two years to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.
Presidential candidates who are also sitting senators canceled campaign appearances to return to Washington for the vote.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also canceled his campaign appearances to vote, though the stated reason was to support controversial judicial nominee Leslie Southwick, whom the Senate appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
McCain, a cosponsor of previous versions of the immigration bill, however, was absent for the DREAM Act vote. His campaign explains the senator's absence by saying he had to catch a flight.
Even if the bill had passed, President Bush, despite his past support for the bill as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package, threatened today to veto the measure because, with the changes from the previous package, it would create "a preferential path to citizenship for a special class of illegal aliens."
The "special class" Bush refers to consists of the children of undocumented workers, presumably brought across the border without knowledge that they were breaking the law.
The DREAM Act sought to provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants as long as they enlisted in the military or attended two years of college.
The Senate's Republican leadership complained the measure came to the floor without enough debate, that Democrats would not allow many amendments of the bill before a final vote. Further, they argued that senators should concentrate instead on unfinished spending bills.
"The Senate has more than enough to do without taking up this issue, which will deeply divide this body and the nation," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just before the cloture vote.
Even some Republicans who supported the DREAM Act in the past voted against it today. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would oppose the bill because it was "cherrypicking," and that passing the DREAM Act today could jeopardize comprehensive reform in the future.
"Do you think there was a vote in the household about their future?" Durbin asked on the Senate floor. "I don't think so. Mom and Dad said, we're leaving. The kids packed their suitcases and followed."
The DREAM Act had cheerleaders (and detractors) in both parties. Republicans such as Orrin Hatch of Utah, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Indiana supported the measure. Democrats such as Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, among others, opposed it.