Senate majority leader Harry Reid on Thursday backed off from a bill that would grant hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they enroll in higher education or enter military service. Reid failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican opposition.
Senate Democrats, who opted to table a Senate version of the bill rather than force a vote Thursday, are expected to attempt another push before the end of the calendar year — likely next week, if a critical tax-cut deal is reached first.
"We will work with House leaders and the administration to ensure that the DREAM Act will be law by the end of the year," Reid and Majority Whip Richard Durbin, the bill’s sponsor in the senate, said in a statement on Thursday.
Republicans have denounced the program as equivalent to giving amnesty to undocumented immigrants and said the program was susceptible to fraud.
The legislation, known as the Dream Act, passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a 216 to 198 vote, handing congressional Democrats under outgoing-Speaker Nancy Pelosi a late and largely symbolic hurrah on an issue that has been a priority for President Obama weeks before Republicans take control in January.
For several hours at least, the bill’s passage in the House yesterday offered a glimmer of hope for its advocates in the Bay Area, who have rallied around the case of Steve Li, an undocumented dental student at the City College of San Francisco, who was detained earlier this year.
Li’s case first came to light when his professor, Sang Chi, formed a Facebook group and began lobbying local nonprofits and elected officials to help.
The Asian Law Caucus, nonprofit legal advocacy group in San Francisco, was eventually persuaded to take up the case, and the story rocketed onto the front pages and evening news broadcasts around the Bay Area as Li became the local face of the controversial law.
Li was facing deportation to Peru, where his family emigrated to from China many years ago. He was released two weeks ago from a detention facility in Arizona after Sen.Dianne Feinstein lobbied on his behalf.
The college student, who has recently been appearing around the Bay Area and leading call-in sessions to legislators, was "really upbeat last night" after the House vote, said Chi.
"We're decompressing now, waiting until next week," he added.
The Asian Law Caucus, which has provided Li legal representation and has continued to lobby for the legislation, said today’s motion to table was “not a defeat.”
“It gives us time to organize for those last minute votes and lets more controversial bills get talked about first,” said Lisa Chen of the Caucus.