In a highly anticipated vote during the final days of the lame-duck congressional session, the Senate on December 18 blocked passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The vote, which came less than two weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act by a vote of 216 to 198, signified a dramatic end to a last-ditch effort to pass a bill with a legalization provision for unauthorized immigrants before the end of the 111th Congress.
The DREAM Act would have granted legal status to certain unauthorized immigrants who entered the United States as children and completed specified higher education or military service requirements.
Although the House’s passage of the DREAM Act earlier this month created some additional political momentum, the bill faced a rough road in the Senate where Republican leaders announced their intention to filibuster it. To survive, the act needed to garner 60 votes in favor of a cloture motion to end debate and proceed directly to a vote. The motion ultimately received five fewer votes than required, however, with a final count of 55 to 41. Five Democrats joined 36 Republicans to defeat the cloture motion.
Just prior to introducing the version of the DREAM Act that passed in the House, backers of the measure made a series of significant changes to the bill in an effort to gain additional bipartisan support. These changes included lowering the age cap for who would be eligible for DREAM, raising the number of years of conditional status required before candidates could apply for lawful permanent residence, and barring beneficiaries from applying for certain kinds of federal loans and health insurance benefits.
It is unclear whether these changes succeeded in drawing additional support for the bill. Overall, the cloture motion received three more votes in the Senate on December 18 than a similar cloture motion on a previous version of the bill received in 2007. The only Republican senator to switch from a “no” vote in 2007 to a “yes” vote in 2010 was Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Four Democratic senators also switched from voting against the motion in 2007 to voting for it in 2010: Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Byron Dorgan (D-ND).
Yet four Republicans and one Democrat who voted for the cloture motion on the DREAM Act in 2007 opposed it this time around: Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
The Senate action on the DREAM Act effectively ends any chances for the bill’s passage during the 111th Congress, and leaves its future uncertain. Beginning in January, Republicans will take control of the House and the Democratic majority in the Senate will drop from 59 to 53 seats. Given the increasingly partisan nature of the immigration debate, and the fact that many incoming Republican politicians ran on campaign promises to “get tough” on unauthorized immigrants during the 2010 midterm elections, most experts anticipate that it will be far more difficult to pass legislation that includes any kind of legalization provision for unauthorized immigrants over the next two years.