Democrats had until recently been keeping alive the possibility of considering a comprehensive immigration reform measure this year, but now that they acknowledge it isn’t politically possible, the party is fracturing over whether to tackle a smaller portion of the problem in the form of the DREAM Act.
Officially titled the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, the bill has been discussed for years as a reasonable change that members from both parties can get behind. In short, the Dream Act would allow a conditional permanent residency for students who graduate from high school and earn or are on track to earn a college degree. It would help potentially millions of illegal immigrants who were brought here illegally by their parents as young children and attended schools in the U.S. all their life.Senators are eyeing a vote on the DREAM Act this year since it’s possible that Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch (who sponsored the bill several years ago) might come on board. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Netroots Nation attendees Saturday she won’t support splitting off the DREAM Act for a separate vote for fear it would make a comprehensive plan harder to achieve later. A few hours later Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the same crowd he doesn’t want to raise false hopes by putting forward the measure if the votes aren’t there.
“I am happy to do the DREAM Act but I’m not going to do the DREAM Act unless I have 60,” Reid said. “I’m not going to disappoint thousands and thousands [by bringing it up] unless I can win.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who leads the immigration subcommittee, splashed more cold water this afternoon, telling reporters, “We don’t have 60 votes on either comprehensive or the DREAM Act at this point.”
But today Reid told reporters that he still aims to push immigration this fall and “see if we can do it” in a comprehensive fashion. If not, Reid said, “We’ll take a real strong look at the DREAM act.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) is the sponsor of the current plan, and Durbin aides are telling reporters that splitting it off is under consideration. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Hatch (R-UT) are among several Republicans who have supported the measure.
But Pelosi said there’s a debate on how Democrats move forward on the DREAM Act.
“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus doesn’t want us to take one piece, a piece that might be appealing, and leaving the undocumented behind,” Pelosi said at Netroots. She said that’s her sentiment. “If we take off rosier pieces of it, the thought is that it would diminish the prospect for comprehensive immigration reform.”
Not everyone agrees.
“I want comprehensive reform, and I do think there is a danger that if the DREAM Act is done on its own that the momentum for an overhaul will be lost,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told TPM in an interview. “But I’m of the school of thought that a win is a win, and if this gets out of the Senate I am going to loudly and proudly push it on the floor so that we do the same thing in the House.”
Immigration groups also are calling on Reid to take separate action. Read a letter from Reform Immigration of America to the majority leader here.
The Washington Independent has more details here about a study by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute showing that “of the 2.1 million unauthorized immigrant youth and young adults who would be eligible to apply for legal status under the DREAM Act, only about 825,000 would eventually gain citizenship.”
Late Update: Reid spokesman Jim Manley sent along a statement pointing out that Republicans have been unwilling to team up on what was once a bipartisan effort.
“It has been almost three months since Sen. Reid presented a framework, based on bipartisan ideas, to fix our broken immigration system. Since then, no Republican has been willing to sit down at the bargaining table with us,” Manley said.. “He is still committed to reforming a system that is unfair to the American taxpayer, worker, and economy, but that isn’t possible without Republican support. In the meantime, he is exploring whether he can pass smaller legislation, such as AgJOBS or the DREAM Act, of which he is an original co-sponsor and long-time supporter. However, Republican support and 60 votes is still needed to address any aspects of our broken immigration system this year.”