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Could the DREAM Act Actually Pass in the Lame-Duck Congress?

Harry Reid is pushing for a vote -- will the Dems deliver?
 
 
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The DREAM Act is back—Harry Reid is pushing for the Senate to vote on it as a stand-alone bill after the Thanksgiving recess.

Let’s recap: the DREAM (short for Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors) Act could provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants under 35 who came here before they were 16 years old, if they complete two years of college or serve in the military.

According to recent polling, 70 percent of Americans are in favor of passing the bill. TheACLU LA reports [ PDF] that passing the DREAM Act will generate $3.6 trillion for the U.S. economy over the next forty years. The Secretaries of Defense and Education are both strong supporters of the bill.

In a White House conference call yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed his support for the bill.

“We have so many young people who’ve done everything right,” Duncan says. “They’ve gone to school every single day, they’ve gotten good grades, they’ve played by the rules, and then the chance of going to college was denied to them. That’s absolutely unfair to those children.”

Some wonder why the DREAM Act would have a better shot at passing in the Senate now, especially because a version of the bill that was tied to defense spending was shot down in late September. Duncan responds to such critics that this is a good bill and the election is over, so some of the political pressure is off.

“You have an opportunity that can help children and strengthen the economy,” he says. “Post election, there’s a chance to get some work done. It’s a good a time as any to make progress here.”

The bill may have come back into existence through bipartisan compromise, but it has it been kicking around Congress for nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, many Republicans are caving to constituencies that have become more hard-line on immigration issues. Some say that DREAM is the first step on the road to “amnesty.” Two former Republican co-sponsors of the bill, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are now against the measure—though McCain is still kind of a wild card.

Some Democrats are also facing this kind of pressure. After casting a “no” vote on the DREAM Act in 2007, when it fell 8 votes short of the needed 60, Max Baucus of Montana told MSNBC that his office is being flooded with angry letters: “People are very upset, they’re outraged; it’s like amnesty, it’s virtually the same.”

The Immigration Policy Center writes that, because DREAM is product of compromise, it falls into an awkward spot where it is “both too much and too little, catching the ire of conservatives who call it 'amnesty'—as well as the frustration of immigration supporters who think it could derail the larger battle for [Comprehensive Immigration Reform].  For the DREAM Act to pass, it would likely need the support of both the moderate Republicans who supported it in the past, as well as the Democrats who may be holding out hope for CIR.”

There’s probably more support for the DREAM Act from the latter camp than ever, since the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform look bleak with Republicans taking the House in the new year. Elise Foley writes at The Washington Independent (defunct as of yesterday) that the DREAM Act will almost certainly be delayed until 2013 if it doesn’t pass now.

ProPublica has published a full list of senators whose positions on the DREAM Act are uncertain.

Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

 
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