Rocky Road Ahead for DREAM Act

dream act

Immigration-rights activists stage a rally calling for the government to act on immigration legislation on Aug. 16, 2010, in Los Angeles. Now proponents of immigration reform are putting their support behind the DREAM Act. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

After failing to win comprehensive immigration reform during a period when Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress, immigration proponents are now hoping to use the lame-duck session to snag an 11th-hour consolation prize: the DREAM Act.

On Tuesday, President Obama pledged to personally lobby resistant members of Congress to support the bill. But even though the DREAM Act has drawn Republican support in the past, it’s unclear whether the White House can win over enough Senate Republicans to make up for the handful of Democrats who are expected to vote against the bill.

The DREAM Act has been discussed for almost a decade. The current version would provide “conditional” green cards to as many as 2.1 million people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were under the age of 16. It would allow them to work, attend college and serve in the military. It also would put them on a path to citizenship.

The House is likely to pass the DREAM Act if Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., brings it to the floor for a vote. “No decision has been made,” Pelosi spokesman Carlos Sanchez said Wednesday. But other sources close to the leadership said the only decision left to be made is what day the vote will occur.

The situation in the Senate, however, remains an uphill battle because 60 votes will be needed to block an expected Republican filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who owes his narrow re-election victory earlier this month in part to Hispanic voters, has pledged to bring up the bill. Proponents don’t have the votes now, but they may secure enough to produce a cliffhanger.

“I do think there’s majority support in the Senate for the DREAM Act,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, which is pushing the legislation. “I think we could get over 60 votes if Republicans were part of the equation.”

Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, a restrictionist group that opposes the bill, said, “As far as we can tell they don’t have the votes in the Senate to pass it right now. The thing that bothers me is that it would be very difficult to beat in the House, and if Pelosi were to bring it up first and pass it, I don’t know what kind of effect that momentum would have in the Senate.”

To get 60 votes in the Senate, proponents would need to win more than half of the 20 or so Democratic and Republican lawmakers whose votes are uncertain at this time. (Check below for a list of those whose votes are considered uncertain at this point.) Proponents believe they have 53 Democratic votes and therefore will need at least seven Republicans. Several Senate Republicans who have voted for the DREAM Act in the past are expected to oppose it this time around, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah. Hatch had been the initial sponsor of the bill back in 2001.

The Senate has voted on the DREAM Act before. In 2007, the measure got 52 votes, falling eight short of the number needed to pass.

The president met Tuesday with congressional Hispanic leaders, who said afterward that Obama had pledged to lobby Democratic lawmakers who are wavering and Republicans who have supported the legislation in the past.

“Passage of the DREAM Act is achievable right now,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said after the White House meeting. “It is the only piece of immigration reform legislation that can get broad support from Democrats and has attracted significant Republican support in the recent past.”

Proponents haven’t pushed for separate consideration of the DREAM Act in recent years because they feared they would lose their most compelling and attractive argument for comprehensive immigration reform, which would benefit the rest of the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally and who are likely to be viewed less sympathetically. The people the DREAM Act would benefit are seen as the poster boys and girls for reform. Many were brought to the United States as infants, have little or no familiarity with the countries where they were born, have grown up and come of age in the United States and are ready for college, work or military service but can’t pursue any of those paths because they aren’t legal residents.

The act would entitle them to six years of “conditional” legal resident status, in essence a temporary green card that could be converted to a permanent green card after six years if they satisfy certain requirements, including attending college for two years or joining the military.

In recent months young activists have pushed aside the political and strategic concerns of their pro-immigration leaders to press for the DREAM Act with or without comprehensive reform. Some held news conferences [1] to disclose their undocumented status, daring immigration authorities to arrest and deport them, which didn’t happen.

Republican gains in the recent congressional elections have made it clear to pro-immigration leaders that any chance of comprehensive reform is gone for now. So they, too, are belatedly joining the full-court press for passage of the DREAM Act by itself, calling it, as Obama did on Tuesday, a “down payment” on comprehensive immigration reform.

Proponents of the legislation say it is a matter of simple fairness to allow people brought to the country illegally by their parents when they were children to assimilate into society’s mainstream. They also say it will be better for the country for these young people to be productive participants in the economy rather than stuck on the margins.

Opponents call it a backdoor amnesty, saying once the children get full permanent resident status they will be able to apply for green cards for their parents. Also, opponents say the DREAM Act’s beneficiaries would be eligible for in-state tuition at colleges and universities in the states where they live, while non-resident U.S. citizen students would be paying much higher out-of-state tuition. And they question how these schools would pay for the expected higher student enrollment.

They also question the feasibility and cost of undertaking the legalization program. The exact number of people who might be eligible for conditional green cards under the DREAM Act is unknown, but estimates range from 1 million to 2.1 million.

The lame-duck session is likely to be the last chance for passing the DREAM Act anytime soon, as Republicans will take control of the House in January. Until the next round of elections in 2012, immigration proponents are likely to be playing legislative defense rather than offense on Capitol Hill.

Marcus SternNext year, the agenda is expected to shift from what it has been under Democrats — exclusively passing comprehensive immigration reform — to a drumbeat of critical hearings contending that the Obama administration is being too soft in enforcing immigration laws. The focus will likely be on tightening rather than relaxing immigration policies, including stricter border and workplace enforcement.

Marcus Stern

Marcus Stern had worked for Copley News Service in Washington, D.C. since 1983. In 2006, he shared the Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award for his role in breaking the story of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s wide-ranging corruption. Stern has also, in recent years, reported extensively from Iraq and other conflict zones. He spent most of the 1990s covering immigration issues for Copley.

Republished with permission from ProPublica.

Senators whose positions on the DREAM Act are considered uncertain at this time include the following:


  • Max Baucus (Montana)
  • Kay Hagan (North Carolina)
  • Mary Landrieu (Louisiana)
  • Joe Manchin (West Virginia)
  • Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
  • Ben Nelson (Nebraska)
  • Mark Pryor (Arkansas)
  • Jon Tester (Montana)


  • Bob Bennett (Utah)
  • Scott Brown (Massachusetts)
  • Sam Brownback (Kansas)
  • Susan Collins (Maine)
  • Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
  • Judd Gregg (New Hampshire)
  • Orrin Hatch (Utah)
  • George LeMieux (Florida)
  • Richard Lugar (Indiana)
  • John McCain (Arizona)
  • Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
  • Olympia Snowe (Maine)
  • George Voinovich (Ohio)


  1. Annette says

    Isn’t that great. Another couple of million people who will get amnesty and probably attend college free, thanks to the American taxpayers who already paid for their primary education. By giving them amnesty, they can then turn around and sponsor their parents to become citizens, who are the very ones who broke the law coming here in the first place.

    Then all of those millions of new citizens can compete for jobs against the American taxpayers who gave them a free education, thanks to liberals who feel sorry for them.

    Meanwhile, those potential immigrants who followed the rules and waited their turn are screwed because the cheaters, backed by the support of naïve liberals, get to jump to the head of the line.

    But it’s their DREAM! A dream for those who benefit (children of illegal aliens and the companies eager to hire them instead of us), but it’s a nightmare for the millions of taxpaying American workers who have to live with reduced wages as our government floods the workforce with new immigrants willing to work for low wages.

    I have a dream- I wish that liberals would wake up and realize that giving amnesty and rewarding the cheaters only attracts millions of more people to sneak into our country and steal our resources.

    If you want to help poor people from other countries, go to those countries and work to establish economic equity there. Don’t keep shoving amnesty down the throats of the people who pay the bill for the millions of cheaters. Because all you get for your efforts is a screwed up economy with a flood of low paid “new citizens,” destruction of our middle and working classes, and votes for Republicans who are willing to stand up against the NIGHTMARE Act.

    • Abe Smith says

      Just want to fix two exaggerations in your statement for future readers: the DREAM act would benefit only about 65,000 students (not millions) and the undocumented students eligible for the DREAM act wouldn’t be able to petition for a visa for their parents. The reason is that a relative can only petition those who are legal immigrants, which the parents are not. Also, you must be a permanent resident to petition for others; becoming a permanent resident usually takes 5 years in addition to receiving your green card.

      Read more about what the DREAM act actually does on Wikipedia.

  2. Francis says


    Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has disclosed the tight-knit mystery of the contents of the–DREAM ACT. The contents of the DREAM Act, S. 3827 is not what most Americans believe it to be. Senator Harry Reid, Sen. Barbara Boxer, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a whole list of far left flung Democrats may think he has fooled the people, but the truth is now out and should be inflexibly recognized as a Path to Citizenship or Amnesty. Not so much the students who would become naturalized citizens, but the chain migration that would snowball for all family members. As I have said before we are committing financial suicide, because the majority of guarantors never honor their affidavits to support the people they vouch? In the end the older family folks who have never paid into the Social Security system, become another public welfare liability.

    To reiterate the dollar numbers have been calculated by the Conservative think tank Heritage Foundation and has analyzed the costs would be somewhere in the two and one half Trillion dollar mark (2.5 Trillion) for any new Amnesty. Every US taxpayer should decide for themselves if by passing the Dream Act is an economic plus for America. You must read the text of the DREAM ACT to understand the real costs and the propaganda spread by the hard Liberal leadership. Go to:

    This blog page carries the major contents of the Dream Act that outlines the ramifications to the taxpayer, who carries the tax burden. For further information and a chance to contact your Senator or Representative with a–FREE–fax, go to

    In addition learn about the buying and selling of your GOP, Liberals or Democrats and the extent of the influence of special interest groups and open border organizations at Learn about the secret funding by the Democrats to assist Sanctuary Cities to survive on your dollar. It seems that the Liberals don’t abide by the instruction in the US Constitution, straying away from every citizen rights with their own ideology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *