The Senate today rejected a bill that would have allowed young people brought to the United States as children by their illegal immigrant parents to gain legal status provided they attended school or entered the military.
The 52-44 vote, short of the 60 required, was seen as a test of the Senate’s appetite for pursuing an immigration overhaul on a piecemeal basis, as opposed to the comprehensive approach that failed this summer. The procedural vote would have allowed debate to begin.
The Dream Act would give conditional legal status to illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. at least five years and entered the country before age 16. They must graduate from high school, have no criminal record and have a “good moral character.” Provided the students completed two years of higher education or service in the military, the conditional basis of the legal status would be lifted. After five years, they could apply for citizenship.
Estimates vary as to the number of young illegal immigrants the bill would affect. The Congressional Budget Office has put it at fewer than 100,000, while the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has estimated it at closer to 500,000.
Democrats argued there was a moral imperative to pass the bill, saying that skilled graduates would benefit American business and that the young people who enlisted would provide a much-needed boost to a military struggling to meet recruitment goals.
Republicans objected both to the timing of the bill and to its substance. Some complained that the Senate had several spending bills to process and should not be debating a controversial immigration measure.
“We’ve yet to send a single appropriations bill,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Conservative groups aggressively attacked the bill as an “amnesty” that would provoke a storm of public outrage, as happened the last time the Senate took up the issue of immigration reform.