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House Approves Bill to Help Young Illegal Immigrants

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House passed a measure that would grant legal status to some younger illegal immigrants.

The 216-198 vote late yesterday was at least a temporary win for advocates who have pushed for a decade for the immigration-law change. Overall, prospects for the measure and broader immigration overhaul will dim once Republicans take control of the House and gain five more Senate seats in the Congress that convenes in early January.

The Senate today put off a vote on its version of the bill, and Majority Leader Harry Reid said the chamber will address the House measure later in the lame-duck session. It will need at least 60 votes to advance in the chamber, where Democrats control 58 votes. Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, has said he would vote with Republicans to block the measure, and a handful of other Democrats may join him.

Senate Republicans said last week they would block this bill and others in the lame-duck session until the Senate extends Bush-era tax cuts due to expire and passes a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Also, few Republicans in the chamber have indicated support for the immigration measure.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in an e-mail that President Barack Obama “looks forward to seeing the Senate approve it so that he can sign it into law.”

DREAM Act

The immigration legislation, called the DREAM Act, would allow people who came to the U.S. illegally before age 16 and remain for at least five years to gain legal residency after going to college or serving in the military. It is co-sponsored by Representative Howard Berman, a California Democrat, and Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican.

Supporters yesterday touted the measure as a narrowly tailored adjustment in immigration law that will help boost the U.S. economy by unleashing some educated, ambitious young Americans into the workforce.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said it is geared toward innocent youth who were brought to this country by parents or guardians who made the decision to enter illegally.

“These are undocumented kids,” Conyers said during House debate. “They didn’t commit a criminal act. They thought they were born here to begin with.”

Opponents said the measure provides “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, risks creating a pool of foreign workers who take jobs from Americans, and doesn’t adequately guard against fraud and abuse of its provisions.

‘A Nightmare’

“This DREAM Act is a nightmare for the American people,” said Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel. “It insults American workers and the American taxpayer and anyone who believes in the rule of law.”

The legislation was proposed in the Senate by Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Similar legislation failed in the chamber 2007, though it was supported by 12 Republican senators, including Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Most Republicans have since opposed liberalizing immigration law amid a voter backlash against illegal immigrants and security lapses on the U.S.- Mexico border.

The Obama administration stepped up lobbying for the legislation, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calling lawmakers to urge support.

At a news conference yesterday, Napolitano said the administration has boosted resources to secure the border and deported a record 200,000 criminal aliens last year.

‘Focus on Them’

“We need to focus on them, not on young people,” she said.

The immigration debate has been shunted to the background since Obama took office in January 2009, though he had said a policy overhaul was a priority, including creating a pathway to citizenship for some of the 11 million undocumented workers. The issue was set aside as a drive to revise the health-care system took precedence and dragged on longer than expected.

The only significant immigration legislation to clear Congress in the past two years was a $600 million border security law Obama signed in August. It included funding to hire 1,500 Border Patrol, Customs and other agents along the border with Mexico.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at   or llitvan@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva@bloomberg.net

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