Thursday, September 27, 2007

Senate Democrats yesterday retreated from forcing a debate about giving illegal-alien students a path to citizenship in the middle of the defense bill, although Majority Leader Harry Reid promised to find time before the end of the year for a vote on the proposal.

“We will move to proceed to this matter before we leave here. I”m going to do my utmost to do it by November 16,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last night.

The proposal faced strong opposition from Republicans who objected to mixing immigration with the defense bill and who vowed to filibuster to defeat the measure if Democrats insisted on bringing it up now.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told The Washington Times last week that enough Republicans were opposed to mixing the two debates that they could block the amendment. Late yesterday, Republicans moved to cut off debate on the defense bill, leaving Democrats with practically no options for inserting their proposal, known as the Dream Act.

The bill would have applied to illegal aliens who were brought to the United States before age 16, have been in the country at least five years and have graduated from high school or obtained an equivalency degree. They are granted legal status and have six years to complete two years of college or serve in the military.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, tried to win extra support by altering the bill to cap eligibility to those younger than 30 and by eliminating a mandate that states offer in-state tuition to those who qualified for legal status.

“If you meet these people, you”ll come to understand the potential that they bring to America”s future,” he said.

He said it is unfair to punish children for their parents” illegal actions — a stance many Republicans share.

The Dream Act has become the top priority for Hispanic and pro-immigration groups and has become the top target for defeat for those who wish to crack down on illegals. The delay gives both sides a chance to rally support.

Decoupling the measure from the defense bill gives it a better chance of passage, but it also means another contentious issue for Mr. Reid to schedule before Congress adjourns for the year. Another immigration-related proposal — to legalize illegal-alien agriculture workers — is also expected to come up for debate.

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