Backers of legislation that would grant legal status to some younger undocumented immigrants sought support for the measure at the U.S. Capitol today, as Senate Republicans threatened to block the measure from reaching the floor.
About 20 House Democrats and college-age students, some of them illegal immigrants, held a rally in a House office building before the students began lobbying lawmakers on behalf of the bill. Their effort came as Senate Republicans sent Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, a letter threatening to block that bill and others from floor consideration until the dispute over extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts is resolved and a stopgap spending measure for government agencies is resolved.
“With little time left in this congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities,” wrote all 42 Senate Republicans. Because it takes 60 votes in the Senate to end delaying tactics by opponents, Republicans have more than enough votes to block any measure.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said today that the immigration-law change would be considered by his chamber during this month’s lame-duck session. House Democrats supporting the measure say they are holding out hope that the Senate will take up and pass the legislation before the new Congress convenes in early January.
“I think the prospects are still there,” said Representative Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and co- chairman of the House Progressive Caucus.
The bill, known as the DREAM Act, would allow people who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and have remained for at least five years to gain legal residency after completing two years of college or military service. The legislation was sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Republican senators blocked an effort to attach the measure to an unrelated $726 billion defense authorization bill in September.
Advocates say they see little chance of getting the legislation through Congress in 2011, when Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives and will boost their number in the 100-seat Senate to 47.
Reid said today that he would work to bring the immigration measure to the floor within a few days. He accused Republicans of a strategy of “obstruct and delay” with their pledge to block all other legislation until the tax-cut issue and the government-funding measure have been agreed upon.
President Barack Obama and many other Democrats want to retain tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 only on the first $200,000 annually earned by individuals and the first $250,000 earned by married couples filing jointly. Republicans want tax cuts extended permanently for all income levels.
The immigration measure is opposed by most Senate Republicans, with only Lugar and Robert Bennett of Utah supporting it as a stand-alone measure so far.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is helping to lead the party’s opposition. He says the bill would provide “amnesty” to those well beyond their college years, and would give safe harbor to some illegal immigrants with criminal records.
The Obama administration has stepped up its lobbying for the legislation, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for passage. In a letter to Durbin, Gates said the measure would help expand a pool of about 35,000 non-citizens who serve in the U.S. military.
Among those at today’s rally was Michelle Rodriguez of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who said her mother, an illegal immigrant, brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was only 5 years old.
Now 23, Rodriguez said that she was enrolled at Tulsa Community College and that she has wanted to serve in the military since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Now more than ever, I want to serve,” Rodriguez said.