Reid’s Push on Immigration Bill Lures Few Republicans

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A drive by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to retool U.S. immigration policy this year is running into resistance from Republicans essential for passage.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today he will attempt to bring to the floor this week a stand-alone measure that would permit legal status for some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The legislation’s advocates, including Washington-based America’s Voice, say it will likely need the support of a half-dozen Republican senators to pass during the lame-duck session.

Many targeted for support -- including retiring Republicans George Voinovich of Ohio and George LeMieux of Florida -- say they won’t go along.

“Granting legal status should only be done as part of comprehensive reform to ensure that we finally address our broken immigration system,” said Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who also is retiring. He opposes voting on the measure “at this time and in this manner.”


The bill, called the DREAM Act, would allow people who came to the U.S. before age 16 and remained for at least five years to gain legal residency after going to college or serving in the military. The legislation was proposed by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democratic leader, and Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Republicans blocked an effort to attach it to an unrelated $726 billion defense authorization bill in September.

Advocates say they see little chance of getting the legislation through Congress next year, when Republicans will take control of the House and boost their number in the 100-seat Senate to 47. Republicans picked up at least 63 House seats and six Senate seats in the November elections.

“The reason we’re putting so much energy into the DREAM Act during the lame-duck session is that prospects are going to be dim in the new Congress,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which backs a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law.

While there are enough Democratic supporters in the House to pass the legislation this year, the party would need help from Republicans to win Senate approval.

Democrats control 58 seats in the Senate, and they need 60 votes to override opponents’ delaying tactics and bring the measure to the floor for approval.

Democratic Opposition

Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, has said he would vote with most Republicans to block the measure, and a handful of other Democrats may join him.

Probably five to seven Senate Republicans would be needed to push the measure through, Sharry said. Groups that see the DREAM Act as a first step toward more comprehensive changes to immigration laws are putting pressure on Republicans who showed support in the past and on those who are retiring, he said.

Senator Robert Bennett of Utah, who lost a re-election bid earlier this year, is the only Republican besides Lugar who has said he’ll support the measure as a stand-alone bill. Some others who voted for it in the past, including Orrin Hatch of Utah and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, say they won’t back it now.

“Senator Hutchison cannot support the DREAM Act legislation in its present form because it is too broad and not limited enough,” said her press secretary, Courtney Sanders.

‘Secure Our Borders’

LeMieux, in a statement, said, “While I am sympathetic to the students impacted by current law, I cannot support consideration of the DREAM Act until we have taken substantial and effective measures to secure our borders.”

Voinovich said in an interview that the measure is “doing it halfway,” and that Congress should consider a comprehensive measure addressing worker visas and border security after he leaves in January.

Another retiring Republican who opposes the bill is Senator Kit Bond of Missouri.

Those Republicans who the bill’s advocates are continuing to focus on include Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine. Campus Progress, a youth group within the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said this week it will air TV ads in Maine and Washington, D.C., urging passage of the legislation.

Latino voters were key in helping Reid keep his Nevada Senate seat. Election-night polls by Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan research group, showed that 10 percent of the votes cast in his Senate race were by Latinos and that of those, 90 percent backed Reid.

His spokeswoman, Regan Lachapelle, said Reid hopes more Republicans will come on board.

“Our hope is that Republicans will choose the interests of our country ahead of politics and will join us in supporting the DREAM Act when it comes to the floor in the coming weeks,” she said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE