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.
DREAM Act Supporters: 'It's Not Over'
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.
The CBO report estimated that one version of the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion in the first decade because of increased tax revenue from immigrant residents.
But the same study also projected the bill could add between $5 billion and $20 billion to the deficit by 2060 due to additional benefit program costs.
Opponents also warned it would add to competition for already scarce U.S. jobs.
"There are some compelling cases out there that deserve to be considered. But there are also 22 million Americans who have compelling cases, who want a job and can't find a job," Beck said. "What the DREAM Act does is add at least a couple million more workers to legally compete against the 22 million unemployed Americans."
"I realize these kids did not personally decide to break the law. Nonetheless, they represent law-breaking. How do you keep parents from doing this to their kids in the future? The DREAM Act does nothing about that," he said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the leading sponsors of the DREAM Act, had said opponents of the measure are breeding "hysteria" and that lawmakers must not overlook the costs of doing nothing.
"Let us consider the alternative to legalizing DREAM Act-eligible young people," he said last week. "The young men and women eligible for the DREAM Act will still live here but can only take jobs in the black market, probably cannot afford the high costs we charge foreign students for a college education, and are barred from serving in the military."
Gutierrez said Saturday that the Senate vote will hurt Republicans politically among Latinos, and that Democrats won't give up on the issue.
"This was a setback to the core values of liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the United States," he said. "These Senators hid behind lame procedural excuses to thwart the hopes and aspirations of the best and brightest of our families and communities, which is both a tragedy and a call to action."
The Senate vote was a last-ditch effort by Democrats to pass the measure before Republicans take control of the House and gain seats in the Senate come January. The bill will likely not receive another shot at passage for at least two more years.
But Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, insists the fight for the DREAM Act will continue.
"I just don't think the GOP is ever going to see the inside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without the support of immigrants, and this legislation is very important to them," he said. "It's not over."
Three Republicans supported the bill today: Dick Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Robert Bennett of Utah. But five Democrats voted against it: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jon Tester of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Max Baucus of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.