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Minority in Senate Block Action on DREAM

December 21, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On Saturday, December 18, a minority of Senators used a procedural vote to stop the DREAM act from being considered on its merits in the Senate.  DREAM supporters garnered the votes of 55 Senators, but for the procedural cloture vote, opponents needed only 40 votes to prevent the bill from being considered.  They had 41 votes.  Five Democrats joined 36 Republicans to block the DREAM Act. Click on this link to see how your Senator voted.  (Note: The Senate was voting on the House version of the DREAM Act, which was attached to another bill, H.R. 5281, the Removal Clarification Act of 2010.)  Democrats voting against cloture were: Baucus (MT), Hagan (NC), Nelson (NB), Pryor (AR), and Tester (MT).  Three Republicans joined Democrats to end the filibuster: Bennett (UT), Lugar (IN), and Murkowski (AK).


The Senate vote came ten days after the House passed the DREAM Act by a vote of 216 to 198.


The Debate:  You can read more about the debate on the Senate floor in this blog post.


Vote Broadcast Live:  In the end, there were few surprises in how individual Senators voted, based on signals or statements they made in the days leading to the vote.  Arguably, the biggest news of the day was that the nation’s two Spanish-language television networks—Univision and Telemundo—broadcast the vote live.  The vote was brought into Latino homes in a way that would not be possible if the airing was limited to C-SPAN 2.  Dozens of vote-watching parties were organized around the country.  As one DREAM student said in a press conference the day before the vote, “This is the World Cup [of Senate votes].”  The live broadcast of the Republican-led effort against the DREAM Act only served to reinforce the notion that the Republican brand is not welcoming of immigrants. 


Profiles in Courage, and of Cowardice:  In his statement on the Senate floor just prior to the vote, Senator Richard Durbin (IL), the chief sponsor of the DREAM Act in the Senate, asked his colleagues “for an act of political courage.”  If the Senator’s colleagues had one-tenth the courage of the DREAM students themselves, this problem would be solved, rather than kicked down the road for a future Congress.  Hundreds of students were in Washington as the vote approached, and they gave meaning to the phrase, “leaving no stone unturned.”  They were an ever-present force in the halls of Congress, speaking to anyone who would listen—and to many who wouldn’t.  They conducted press conferences and staged numerous events on Capitol Hill to bring attention to their plight.


They were joined in their effort by national partners—many of which are part of Reform Immigration FOR America—including the National Immigration Law Center, America’s Voice, NCLR, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, First Focus, Service Employees International Union, and the AFL-CIO.  Also helping the DREAM students while they were in Washington were faith groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and the United Methodist Church.  Farmworker advocates, including Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers, sent out alerts to their members, even though AgJOBS was not paired with the DREAM Act, as was thought possible earlier in the month.


In the Senate, Senator Durbin was tireless in his shepherding the bill through the Senate.  He also spoke passionately at a press conference with DREAM students after the bill’s defeat.  Majority Leader Reid has been a consistent supporter of the DREAM Act, and put it on the Senate schedule three times in this session.  Other Senators who spoke in support of the Act during debate on the floor include Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Bennet (D-CO), Gillibrand (D-NY), and Schumer (D-NY). 


Senators McCaskill (D-MO), Dorgan (D-ND), Conrad (D-ND), Webb (D-MI), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), and Bennett (R-UT) should be commended for showing some political courage by casting their vote for cloture.  On the other hand, Senators Brownback (R-KS), Snowe (R-ME), Kirk (R-IL), Brown (R-MA), Collins (R-ME), and Lemieux (R-FL) were disappointing in their collusion with the obstructionists who wanted to stop the bill from being considered on the merits.  Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT, a previous cosponsor of the bill), avoided voting altogether.


In the weeks leading up to the votes in the House and Senate, the Administration also made a push for the DREAM Act, as previously noted in this blog post.


Bad Times for ICE:  For the next two years, little is expected from Congress, and attention will be shifting to the Obama Administration and the enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While ICE is often portrayed as a villain by some advocates, in reality, especially in this case, it is Congress’s failure to fix the broken immigration law that leaves ICE stuck with enforcing a law that makes no sense.  DREAM advocates and their many supporters will be looking to the Administration for some sort of relief for the students.  If ICE shows leniency, it will come under pressure from members of Congress who want nothing more than the deportation of every one of the DREAM students.  If the agency goes after the students, they will come under pressure from members of Congress who are supporters of DREAM.  They will also have to contend not just with the network of students who will come to each other’s aid, but with the millions of Americans who have become supporters of the students during this fight, and who will now do everything they can to protect the students. 


It’s probably safe to say that DREAM students will be very low priority enforcement targets for ICE.


Follow-up: Let your Senators know how you feel.  Send a letter to your Senators to express your thanks for their support for the DREAM Act or to express your disappointment in their rejection of this common sense solution.  You can send a letter from our Web site.



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