Senate Squashes the DREAM

A block by Republican members of the U.S. Senate as time was running out on the lame duck session of Congress squashed – at least for now – the dreams of tens of thousands of young people of becoming a United States Citizen.

The DREAM Act, or the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would provide a way for children of undocumented aliens to gain U.S. citizenship after attending four years of college or enlisting for military service, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and went to the Senate for approval.  There, Republicans opposed to the bill used a filibuster, a political technique similar to running out the clock in a football game, to ensure it never came up for a vote before the current session of Congress ended December 17.

The bill was not without supporters in the Senate, however, gaining a vote of 55-41 in favor, but 60 votes were required to block the filibuster and bring it to the floor for a vote.  Senators that approved the bill told media outlets they were encouraged the DREAM Act won a majority, and despite disappointment over the filibuster, were encouraged enough to push the bill in the next session of Congress. They said they would continue to champion the bill, on its own or part of the overall reworking of U.S. immigration law Democrats support.  The Republican Party controls the majority in the House of Representatives, but the Senate Democrats said they believe the parties could come to agreement on the bill.

President Barack Obama, in a statement, called the outcome “incredibly disappointing” and said that he would continue fighting to win approval of the bill.

“It is not only the right thing to do for talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own, it is the right thing for the United States of America,” Mr. Obama said. “Our nation is enriched by their talents and would benefit from the success of their efforts.”

“The DREAM Act is important to our economic competitiveness, military readiness, and law enforcement efforts,” he said, adding, “It is disappointing that common sense did not prevail today but my administration will not give up.”

Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois was one of the fiercest supporters of the bill. He urged his colleagues for weeks to enter a “yes” vote.  “I want to make it clear to my colleagues, you won’t get many chances in the United States Senate, in the course of your career, to face clear votes on the issue of justice,” he told the New York Times.

“Thousands of children in America who live in the shadows and dream of greatness,” he said. “They are children who have been raised in this country. They stand in the classrooms and pledge allegiance to our flag. They sing our ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ as our national anthem. They believe in their heart of hearts this is home. This is the only country they have ever known.”

Young Hispanic men and women filled the spectator galleries of the Senate, many of them wearing graduation caps and tassels in a symbol of their support for the bill. They held hands and bowed their heads in silent prayer as the Senate clerk called the roll.  When the bill’s defeat and the filibuster’s victory was announced, many wore a shocked expression.

At a news conference after the vote, Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, former superintendent of the Denver school system, said he was thinking about the thousands of students he knew there as he cast his vote in favor of the DREAM Act.

“Please don’t give up,” Mr. Bennet said. “Don’t be disappointed because we couldn’t get our act together.”

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