U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will seek votes during Congress’s lame-duck session on proposals to let some children of illegal immigrants gain legal status and to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Both measures were blocked by Senate Republicans in September when Reid sought to include them in a $726 billion defense bill. The Nevada Democrat said yesterday he will introduce the immigration bill separately and bring up the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members as part of the defense bill.
The immigration proposal, called the DREAM Act, would let illegal immigrants who arrive in the U.S. before age 16 and stay for at least five years gain permanent residency after they go to college or serve in the military.
“If there is a bipartisan bill that makes sense for our country economically, from a national security perspective and one that reflects American values, it is the DREAM Act,” Reid said in a statement. “This bill will give children brought illegally to this country at no fault of their own the chance to earn legal status.”
The immigration measure was proposed by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, and Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.
Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate, and they will need Republican support to bring the measure up for debate and approve it. It takes 60 votes to override delaying tactics by opponents.
Five to seven Republicans would most likely be needed to push the DREAM Act through the Senate because not all Democrats support it, said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington group that backs a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law.
Sharry said his group and other supporters will lobby Republicans who have shown support for the measure in the past, as well as those who are retiring. That includes Robert Bennett of Utah, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and George Voinovich of Ohio.
Latino voters helped Reid keep his Nevada Senate seat. Election night polls by Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan research group, showed that Latinos cast 10 percent of the votes in Nevada’s Senate race, with 90 percent backing Reid. He defeated Republican Sharron Angle, 50 percent to 45 percent.
The House passed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in May, and President Barack Obama pledged in his January 2010 State of the Union address to lift the ban.
Still, the administration has fought an effort to repeal the ban in court, saying the military needs time to put a new policy in place and that any change should come from Congress.
Law in Effect
The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand an appeals court decision to let the law stay in effect during a lawsuit seeking to invalidate it.
The Defense Department is scheduled to release a study on the issue in early December. The Washington Post and other news organizations, citing unidentified sources, reported last week that the study group determined that lifting the ban would pose minimal risk of disruptions.
The 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, enacted under former President Bill Clinton, allows gay men and lesbians to serve in the military only if they don’t reveal their sexual orientation and it isn’t otherwise disclosed.
“Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces,” Reid said in a statement. “We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”