- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

Senate Democrats voted Thursday to block their own immigration legalization bill, dealing a setback to the effort just a day after the House approved a similar bill to grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant children and young adults.

The convoluted vote left senators on both sides confused, but its failure — on a 59-40 vote — preserves the option for Democrats to try again later this year. The bill is the most important piece of legislation dealing with immigration left in the expiring lame-duck session of Congress.

In the equivalent of shooting a wounded horse, Senate Democrats realized they had mid-judged the legislative process and were about to vote on a measure slightly different than the House’s bill. So rather than lose a meaningless vote, they decided to table the measure, pulling it from the schedule.

“It’s a waste of the Senate’s time,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who found himself in the tough spot after promising during his recent election campaign to force a vote on the bill.

The measure, known as the DREAM Act, would have granted temporary legal status to most illegal immigrants under age 30 who were brought here before age 16, and who have been in the country at least five years. It would have granted a further path to citizenship to those who go on to college or join the U.S. military.

Democrats said the bill would apply to those who find themselves in the United States illegally only because they were brought here by their parents.

“In the name of justice, in the name of fairness, give these young people a chance,” said Sen. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who led the fight for the bill.

But Republicans said the bill invites massive fraud and said it amounts to an “amnesty” for all illegal immigrants up to 30 years of age. They said the bill should be set aside in favor of focusing on border security.

“Not until this country brings the lawlessness to an end,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who led the opposition.

Both sides agreed that the children covered by the bill are the most sympathetic group of illegal immigrants. If Democrats are unable to pass the bill in the few short weeks before the end of the year, their chances are doomed for the foreseeable future, since Republicans are slated to take control of the House in January, and are adamantly opposed to legalization.

Mr. Reid had scheduled a vote on the Senate version of the DREAM Act earlier this week, despite having apparently promised that the House could go first with voting on their own version. That left Mr. Reid in the position of bringing to the floor the meaningless Senate bill. He tried to switch that early Thursday morning, but Republicans, confident of defeating the bill on a filibuster, objected.

Instead of pressing forward, Mr. Reid decided to remove the bill from the schedule, which required the vote Thursday to table the matter.

The vote to table it was 59-40, with 52 Democrats, two independents and five Republicans voting for tabling. Four Democrats joined 36 Republicans in voting against tabling.

Mr. Reid appeared to know that the bill would have been blocked had it gone forward to a showdown vote. He had also scheduled two other votes on other issues immediately after the immigration bill — a signal that he didn’t expect to break the filibuster.

Now Mr. Reid will have to decide whether to bring up the that passed the House Wednesday night on a vote of 216-198.

Immigration rights advocates said are still holding out hope, and praised Mr. Reid’s move as giving them more time to try to build support.

“We now have the weekend and into next week to launch a national mobilization to get the votes to enact this important bill that could literally change the course of hundreds of thousands of young lives and make our country and our military stronger,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.

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