By Eunice Moscoso
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/208051
WASHINGTON — The Senate defeated a controversial measure on Wednesday that would have given thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they attended college or joined the military.
The bill needed 60 votes to move forward, but received only 52, essentially killing it for the year.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the measure's lead sponsor, pledged to continue to fight for it.
"I'm not going to quit on this," he said. "This is an idea whose time will come because it's based on justice."
The measure is known as the DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. It would have allowed thousands of young illegal immigrants eventually to attain permanent legal status and U.S. citizenship if they completed two years of college or served honorably in the military for at least two years. It would have applied to those who had lived in the United States for at least five years before the measure's enactment, had graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and had no criminal record.
The bill's defeat could be a harbinger of things to come as lawmakers try to pass immigration bills in an election season in which immigration is already a major theme in the GOP presidential primary.
Other measures that might come to the floor include a legalization plan for farm workers and several proposals to increase H-1B visas and other temporary permits for highly educated foreign workers.
Durbin said those measures will have a difficult time in Congress.
"The debate has changed. There are people who are using this issue politically, creating a lot of fear and spreading a lot of misinformation," he said.
In an emotional speech, Durbin urged lawmakers to have compassion for students who were brought to the United States illegally as infants or young children and have excelled academically under difficult circumstances.
"What crime did these children commit? They committed the crime of obeying their parents," he said. "These are kids without a country. They have nowhere to turn. … Give them a chance. Give them hope."
Durbin also railed against what he called the "confusion, distortion and vitriol" surrounding the immigration debate in Congress and across the country.
Opponents of the measure said the bill was a disguised amnesty that would lead to more illegal immigration.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the bill would have "put illegal immigrants on a special path toward citizenship."
"I do not believe we should reward illegal behavior," he said.
Several Republicans also said the American people want more enforcement against illegal immigration, not another amnesty bill.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said the bill was "a slap in the face to all those who came in legally."
Opponents also said the bill would allow students to petition for relatives to come to the United States, creating unwanted "chain migration."
The Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports lower levels of immigration, said the total number of "potential amnesty beneficiaries" under the bill would have been 2.1 million.
Supporters said the numbers were exaggerated by opponents.
The non-partisan Migration Policy Institute estimated that the bill would result in 279,000 newly eligible persons for college enrollment or the military.
In addition, 715,000 illegal immigrants between the ages of 5 and 17 would become eligible in the future, it found.
The White House, which previously supported a larger immigration package that included a similar student immigration measure, opposed the Durbin bill.
In a statement, the White House said the measure "falls short" by creating a special path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants, including "young people whose parents respected the nation's immigration laws."