How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Dream Act: Is it still alive, or isn't it?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Participants in a vigil and rally for the Dream Act in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday night, December 7, 2010

This morning, when the Senate voted to table action on the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant legal status to certain undocumented college students and military hopefuls, a group of students and other supporters of the bill who watched the vote take place on C-SPAN in downtown Los Angeles breathed a sigh of relief.

As they saw it, the Senate's move to shelve its version of the bill, and vote at a later date on the version approved last night in the House, would perhaps give them more time to call legislators and drum up support.

But there are different interpretations of what occurred today. Some news reports have characterized the Senate's move as essentially leaving the bill to die a slow death. One NPR piece described the bill as having "very likely died" today.

Other stories characterized the move as a strategy taken in order to avoid a certain demise today in the Senate, where Republican votes in support were lacking, and give the legislation a slightly better chance. One story in the Washington Post read:

Instead, Senate Democrats voted to pull their bill, allowing them to take up a version identical to the House bill. If the Senate were to pass that version, the legislation would go directly to President Obama for his signature, skipping the process of reconciling the two chambers' measures.

So what is it? Those advocating for the measure see it as the latter.

"We wanted more time to work on Republican targets," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "We wanted the Senate to bring up the House bill. It just makes it easier if the Senate takes up a bill that the House has already passed. We wanted the Senate to do this."

Shelving the bill also allows time for Congress to resolve a tax cut deal struck between Republican lawmakers and President Obama, which has been rejected in the House, but which GOP leaders have established as a priority before supporting other measures.

"Everybody knew that Republicans were ready to vote against the cloture motion this morning," Tramonte said. "A lot of reporters were ready to write the obituary on the Dream Act already, so they just fit what happened today into that frame."

So far, though, "the advocates are all in line, saying this was a good move."

The Dream Act's fate is now to be determined later this month, possibly next week. And while the obituaries today may be premature, the bill still faces an uphill slog in the Senate, where it's unlikely that already stiff Republican opposition will be swayed.

Among the points raised by GOP leaders opposing the bill have been concerns about fraudulent applications, an increase in overall immigration as beneficiaries eventually sponsor family members, and cost. A recent Congressional Budget Office report concluded that the Dream Act would reduce the federal deficit over the next decade. However, costs would rise over the long term as beneficiaries start becoming permanent legal residents and U.S. citizens, making them eligible for government programs available to other Americans.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said he was still optimistic that there might be some concessions made by GOP lawmakers, especially if the tax cut issue is resolved.

"The House surprised us last night, and the Senate might well surprise us too," he said.

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