- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Senate returns to the immigration debate today as Democrats try to pass a bill to legalize illegal alien students — but Republican leaders say they will try to block the measure, arguing it should be put off until the borders are secure.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat sponsoring the bill, said it should be a rare place for common ground in the contentious immigration debate because it applies to illegal aliens who were brought here when they were young and had no say, and who have shown they will be productive in society.

“It is the most bipartisan part of the immigration debate,” he told reporters at a press conference that showcased three college students who would be helped by the bill.

Known as the Dream Act, it would offer legal status and an eventual path to citizenship to illegal aliens under 30 years of age who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, graduated high school and either have completed or plan to complete two years of college or military service.

A version of the bill was included in the Senate’s broad immigration bill that failed earlier this year, though, and Republicans said the message from that debate is that voters want secure borders before any amnesty.

“The Dream Act rewards illegal behavior, and I will oppose it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “We must first ensure our borders are secure before we begin to tackle other immigration-related matters.”

Today’s vote is on a procedural question of whether to bring the bill to the floor, and it requires the support of 60 senators to pass. But some Democrats are expected to be absent while on the campaign trail, and others could be absent to take care of business back home, leaving supporters short of the finish line.

One Senate Republican aide who has been following the issue said Democrats want today’s vote to fail.

“If it doesn’t, the Senate would spend at least a week of scarce floor time debating the bill instead of passing the appropriations bills,” the aide said. “I think they want us to defeat cloture so that they can take credit for trying, and take shots at Republicans for being anti-Hispanic.”

The White House supported the Dream Act as part of this year’s broad bill, but is wary of this measure.

“We will review the legislation, but I would note President Bush has not supported the Dream Act as a stand-alone piece of legislation in the past,” said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman.

He said the administration still prefers the broad approach of tying border security, a guest-worker program and legal status for illegal aliens into one bill.

One Republican, Rep. Tom Tancredo, yesterday called for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to come arrest the three students Mr. Durbin hosted at his press conference: “Just because these illegal aliens are being used for political gain doesn’t mean they get immunity from the law.”

Mr. Durbin was outraged by the suggestion. He said each student was there under special circumstances: One had been released by the Department of Homeland Security under an order of supervision, one had been granted deferred action, and one had been granted a stay of deportation while a bill for private relief works its way through Congress.