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An undocumented student weeps as she watched the debate over the DREAM Act, which failed to win approval in the U.S. Senate on Dec. 18.  (AP photo)

 

WASHINGTON — The dreams of thousands of young undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally died over the weekend after the U.S. Senate rejected on Dec. 18 the DREAM Act that would have allowed them to pursue a path to legalization and eventually naturalization.

In a 55-41 vote, senators failed to advance the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), which was passed in the House of Representatives last week by a 216 to 198 margin.

Most Democrats supported the legislation and most Republicans opposed it.

President Barack Obama expressed dismay with the decision, declaring that “common sense did not prevail today.”

“It is disappointing...but my administration will not give up on the DREAM Act, or on the important business of fixing our broken immigration system. The American people deserve a serious debate on immigration, and it’s time to take the polarizing rhetoric off our national stage,” the President said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she will continue to fight for the thousands who worked hard to try to get the DREAM Act passed.

“It is a sad day for our country when we turn our backs on some of our best and brightest young people who grew in America, love America and want to serve in America,” said Boxer.

“I commend the brave young men and women who have stepped forward at great personal risks to call America’s attention to this injustice and I will not rest until the DREAM Act is the law of the land.”

Opponents of the bill, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), argued the proposal would have increased illegal immigration.

Graham said during the debate that he would never vote yes on the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill.

“To those who have come to my office, you are always welcome to come but you are wasting your time,” Graham said.

“We are not going to pass the DREAM Act or any legalization until we secure our borders. It will never be done stand-alone. It has to be part of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, many college students across the country are reportedly turning to Plan B taking their fight to the states as they gear up for the 2012 elections.

Andrea Margot Ortega, a Fontana, California resident and coordinator for the DREAM Act Now Inland Empire chapter, said those senators who refused to accept reality and compromise to better serve the public will pay in the future with their seats.

Ortega said the fight is not over and the dream is very much alive since it has the support of the majority of the people and it is a win-win bill for the nation.

“We will not forget in 2012. We will continue dreaming and we will be back stronger than ever,” said Ortega.

The DREAM Act would have allowed people to become legal after fulfilling several requirements, including being younger than 15 when they entered the country, being 35 years of age or younger, and attending college or joining the military for at least two years.

To receive a green card, people would have to wait a 10-year period.

Six years later, they would have been able to apply for citizenship.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), said during the debate that the bill would have helped many young people stay out of trouble.

“I’ve supported the DREAM Act since it was introduced and each year support has grown,” said Feinstein.

“They are hardworking young people...they have stayed out of trouble.”

The bill needed 60 votes in order to overcome a Republican filibuster.

 

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Supporters of the Federal DREAM Act participate in a candlelight procession and vigil in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 7.  (AP photo/Damian Dovarganes)

 

Most Republicans voted against the DREAM Act, except three who changed their minds in the last minute:

Senators Richard Lugar (R-Ind.); Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); and Bob Bennett (R-Utah).

Democrats who voted no on the proposal, including Senators Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jon Tester (D-Mt.), Max Baucus (D-Mt.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

“Only three principled Republicans stood up to pressure from their leadership.

The courage of Senators Robert Bennett, Richard Lugar and Lisa Murkowski is exemplary, and I wish more of their fellow members would have followed them,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a statement.

The bill was first introduced in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and came close to approval in 2007.

Last September it was rejected by several moderate Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who previously supported the bill.

Professor Jose Calderon from Pitzer College in Claremont said local legislators will later introduce another similar bill while at the same time continuing to mobilize the masses to vote during the 2012 elections.

“This is not a defeat; it is a reason for us to get stronger,” said Calderon.

“There is no reason for the government to say no to the DREAM Act, and sooner or later it will be approved. Those who can vote should register and remember those who voted against the DREAM Act — payback will be sweet.”

But critics of the Dream Act and of national immigration policy also vowed to continue their opposition in the months and years ahead.

“Despite the individual stories that may be compelling, it’s better for the nation not to have something we consider a back-door amnesty,’’ said Joseph Ureneck of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform.

“I think it would encourage millions of people to come to the United States illegally.’’

Ureneck argued that the Dream Act, if enacted, would provide an unwarranted benefit to parents who knew what they were doing was illegal, yet still decided to break immigration law and to bring their children with them as they did so.

Opponents saw the measure as the first step in the battle over broader immigration reform, a politically contentious issue and one that conservatives have fiercely opposed.

In his comments on the floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) denounced what he called an amnesty bill for those who entered the country illegally.

“The bill at its core is a reward for illegal activities,” said Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

He also said the current bill is the fifth version of the measure and that none had gone through the committee hearing process.