Journalism in the Public Interest

Rocky Road Ahead for DREAM Act

After failing to win comprehensive immigration reform, immigration proponents are now hoping to use the lame-duck session to snag an 11th-hour consolation prize: the DREAM Act.


Immigration-rights activists stage a rally calling for the government to act on immigration legislation on Aug. 16, 2010, in Los Angeles. Now proponents of immigration reform are putting their support behind the DREAM Act. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

After failing to win comprehensive immigration reform during a period when Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress, immigration proponents are now hoping to use the lame-duck session to snag an 11th-hour consolation prize: the DREAM Act.

On Tuesday, President Obama pledged to personally lobby resistant members of Congress to support the bill. But even though the DREAM Act has drawn Republican support in the past, it's unclear whether the White House can win over enough Senate Republicans to make up for the handful of Democrats who are expected to vote against the bill.

The DREAM Act has been discussed for almost a decade. The current version would provide "conditional" green cards to as many as 2.1 million people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were under the age of 16. It would allow them to work, attend college and serve in the military. It also would put them on a path to citizenship.

The House is likely to pass the DREAM Act if Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., brings it to the floor for a vote. "No decision has been made," Pelosi spokesman Carlos Sanchez said Wednesday. But other sources close to the leadership said the only decision left to be made is what day the vote will occur.

The situation in the Senate, however, remains an uphill battle because 60 votes will be needed to block an expected Republican filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who owes his narrow re-election victory earlier this month in part to Hispanic voters, has pledged to bring up the bill. Proponents don't have the votes now, but they may secure enough to produce a cliffhanger.

"I do think there's majority support in the Senate for the DREAM Act," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, which is pushing the legislation. "I think we could get over 60 votes if Republicans were part of the equation."

Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, a restrictionist group that opposes the bill, said, "As far as we can tell they don't have the votes in the Senate to pass it right now. The thing that bothers me is that it would be very difficult to beat in the House, and if Pelosi were to bring it up first and pass it, I don't know what kind of effect that momentum would have in the Senate."

To get 60 votes in the Senate, proponents would need to win more than half of the 20 or so Democratic and Republican lawmakers whose votes are uncertain at this time. (Check below for a list of those whose votes are considered uncertain at this point.) Proponents believe they have 53 Democratic votes and therefore will need at least seven Republicans. Several Senate Republicans who have voted for the DREAM Act in the past are expected to oppose it this time around, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah. Hatch had been the initial sponsor of the bill back in 2001.

The Senate has voted on the DREAM Act before. In 2007, the measure got 52 votes, falling eight short of the number needed to pass.

The president met Tuesday with congressional Hispanic leaders, who said afterward that Obama had pledged to lobby Democratic lawmakers who are wavering and Republicans who have supported the legislation in the past.

"Passage of the DREAM Act is achievable right now," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said after the White House meeting. "It is the only piece of immigration reform legislation that can get broad support from Democrats and has attracted significant Republican support in the recent past."

Proponents haven't pushed for separate consideration of the DREAM Act in recent years because they feared they would lose their most compelling and attractive argument for comprehensive immigration reform, which would benefit the rest of the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally and who are likely to be viewed less sympathetically. The people the DREAM Act would benefit are seen as the poster boys and girls for reform. Many were brought to the United States as infants, have little or no familiarity with the countries where they were born, have grown up and come of age in the United States and are ready for college, work or military service but can't pursue any of those paths because they aren't legal residents.

The act would entitle them to six years of "conditional" legal resident status, in essence a temporary green card that could be converted to a permanent green card after six years if they satisfy certain requirements, including attending college for two years or joining the military.

In recent months young activists have pushed aside the political and strategic concerns of their pro-immigration leaders to press for the DREAM Act with or without comprehensive reform. Some held news conferences to disclose their undocumented status, daring immigration authorities to arrest and deport them, which didn't happen.

Republican gains in the recent congressional elections have made it clear to pro-immigration leaders that any chance of comprehensive reform is gone for now. So they, too, are belatedly joining the full-court press for passage of the DREAM Act by itself, calling it, as Obama did on Tuesday, a "down payment" on comprehensive immigration reform.

Proponents of the legislation say it is a matter of simple fairness to allow people brought to the country illegally by their parents when they were children to assimilate into society's mainstream. They also say it will be better for the country for these young people to be productive participants in the economy rather than stuck on the margins.

Opponents call it a backdoor amnesty, saying once the children get full permanent resident status they will be able to apply for green cards for their parents. Also, opponents say the DREAM Act's beneficiaries would be eligible for in-state tuition at colleges and universities in the states where they live, while non-resident U.S. citizen students would be paying much higher out-of-state tuition. And they question how these schools would pay for the expected higher student enrollment.

They also question the feasibility and cost of undertaking the legalization program. The exact number of people who might be eligible for conditional green cards under the DREAM Act is unknown, but estimates range from 1 million to 2.1 million.

The lame-duck session is likely to be the last chance for passing the DREAM Act anytime soon, as Republicans will take control of the House in January. Until the next round of elections in 2012, immigration proponents are likely to be playing legislative defense rather than offense on Capitol Hill.

Next year, the agenda is expected to shift from what it has been under Democrats -- exclusively passing comprehensive immigration reform -- to a drumbeat of critical hearings contending that the Obama administration is being too soft in enforcing immigration laws. The focus will likely be on tightening rather than relaxing immigration policies, including stricter border and workplace enforcement.


Senators whose positions on the DREAM Act are considered uncertain at this time include the following:


  • Max Baucus (Montana)
  • Kay Hagan (North Carolina)
  • Mary Landrieu (Louisiana)
  • Joe Manchin (West Virginia)
  • Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
  • Ben Nelson (Nebraska)
  • Mark Pryor (Arkansas)
  • Jon Tester (Montana)


  • Bob Bennett (Utah)
  • Scott Brown (Massachusetts)
  • Sam Brownback (Kansas)
  • Susan Collins (Maine)
  • Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
  • Judd Gregg (New Hampshire)
  • Orrin Hatch (Utah)
  • George LeMieux (Florida)
  • Richard Lugar (Indiana)
  • John McCain (Arizona)
  • Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
  • Olympia Snowe (Maine)
  • George Voinovich (Ohio)

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John Richard Smith

Nov. 18, 2010, 1:30 p.m.

This bill is way too expensive. I beg those Senators who are undecided to consider the grave consequences passing this bill will have on American citizen students. They will end up paying more in tuition because universities always tack on the added expense to the going tuition rate. How many college openings are there? 2.1 millions seems to be a huge percentage of the total open seats. I’m sorry, illegal immigration has gotten too far out of control. This amnesty would be larger than any of those before and would definitely lead to more illegal immigration.
The Dream Act is not the answer.

The DREAM Act does not allow for financial aid assistance whether it be grants or scholarship money funded by tax dollars. It does however allow for students to take out loans.

And limited seats? It’s obvious John Smith is a commy and rather avoid competition. This is AMERICA! We welcome competition!

Dear John,
You think this bill is expensive? Stop being paranoid about immigration and pay attention to who 2.1 million people are: college and military students. We are not talking about all illegal immigrants in U.S. So please do not mislead yourself and those around you regarding this matter. And have some sympathy towards immigrants. I’m sure your ancestors were immigrants too. Technically speaking, your ancestors killed more than 100 million Native Americans. Please don’t worry. Mexicans won’t spread swine flu and wipe out the U.S. population. Finally, don’t be a selfish American. Know that education is a human right.

Cindy Anderson

Nov. 18, 2010, 1:41 p.m.

You are wrong, Frank. The Senate bill allows for in-state tuition and state financial aid. It also gives work study and Federally subsidized loans, which can in some cases be forgiven.
You are right, this is America. It is not the benefits provider to the entire planet.

Cindy Anderson

Nov. 18, 2010, 1:44 p.m.

Terrence: I care about the 2.1 million American citizens who need jobs right now. Sorry.


- The 2.1 million is the upper extreme of a number that is currently unknown, and not all of those eligible would be current college-age students

- Time and time again it has been shown that undocumented immigrants still contribute to taxes, so calling this bill expensive is misleading

- Why are you limiting the term “American” with nativist sentiment? “American dream,” “American culture” extends far beyond the borders. In fact economic pressures are what called for these children’s parents to first come to the US. The only real “un-American” action is to benefit from their services yet deny a mode for representation for their children who did not make an active choice to come to the United States.

- Agree that the Dream Act is not the full answer, but according to you, what would be? The nativist sentiment isn’t “let’s work out an answer,” but rather, let’s continue to stall or let’s continue to turn a blind eye to the issue while condemning those people that make up a cheap labor force.


The California Supreme Court just upheld a ruling that undocumented students who graduate high school from the state have access to in-state tuition. This makes sense since these students have excelled in the state, why wouldn’t CA or any state (10 other states have similar statutes) want to reap the benefit of having bright and talented students?

No one is asking the US for a hand-out. This bill doesn’t debate immigration reform on a whole, but rather wants to give the US military and economy a way to extract benefits from a population of students/workers that are just as American as anyone else.

well just think about it if it does get passed alot of them would join the military. i come from hispanic decent and just about everybody in my family is in the military. i also am planning to join.

why do the american taxpayer have to pay for harry reid’s promises this will cost the american tax payer trillions of dollars and it will force american kids out of college seats why schould american kids be put on the back burner if the dreamers want someone to pay then blame there parents they knew the law that they were not allowed into a foreign country but they snuck in any way so the blame lies with there parents

Dear Kenny,
Your math is pathetic. It will not cost trillions of dollars and I’m probably sure you don’t even know how many zeros there are in one trillion. Don’t blurt out something you are not even sure of because I stopped reading your comment after you called out that much money. And no intelligent human being will too.


No one is forcing anyone out of any college seats. The college seats that are given are still given on a basis of merit.

Nor does this put US born taxpayers on the back-burner. This would not cost the US “trillions,” but rather google “UCLA immigration economic benefit” to learn that this actually will contribute to the economy while eliminating a current black marker while also largely helping a military that is struggling with recruits (see Pentagon support).

well not really why is it that people came to america in the first place becouse they wanted a better future. thats all the want for their kids. dont you want your kids to have a good future.

Hi Kenny,
You are perfectly right. Why don’t you jail the kids whose parents were criminals? That makes perfect sense.

Don’t be a 5th grader presenting some stupid argument. Go read books.

ok google this 25americans killed 550 american women raped 7 american children molested every single day by ileagle invaders google it right now and tell me wht you thing of that and this is why we need to secure our borders

Kim Pereira

Nov. 18, 2010, 2 p.m.

It is obvious that Frank Lucas does not truly understand our laws and how they work.  Yes, the illegal immigrants will be eligible for grants.  They will also be getting a discount on all their schooling and school supplies because they are from another country and not the US.  Yet, our own children that are students that were born in the US get none of these discounts and still pay all the high tuition for the over burdened and overcrowded colleges!!! 

I bet you a million dollars Frank Lucas does not have any children.  If he did, he would not have this view.  He would already know that it has nothing to do with competition.  Immigrants are killing our ability to be competitive by taking the places of our kids in colleges and making it so that only they can go to school because they are getting all the breaks, and a regular American student cannot afford it.  With voters like Frank Lucas who needs enemies.

The DREAM Act amnesty would be another nightmare for beleaguered and unemployed American workers.

While 22 million Americans who want a full-time job cannot find one, pro-amnesty cheerleaders are making a last-ditch effort to increase competition for jobs by giving millions of work permits to illegal aliens through the DREAM Act,.

Supporters of DREAM continue to mislead the public by talking about a small group of teenaged students who shouldn’t be punished for the sins of their parents who supposedly brought them to the U.S. as young children.  In actuality, the bill covers at least 2 million illegal aliens up to age 35 even if they came after childhood, and it allows them to petition for their parents to get permanent work permits. 

The DREAM Act allows the parents who illegally put their children into this status to be rewarded for their behavior.

And while it adds millions more competitors into the legal U.S. labor force, it does nothing to discourage future millions from entering the U.S. illegally, from putting their children into difficult circumstances, and from harming American workers.

Put Americans to work, support E-Verify.

just what I thought silence

I found some data online. Census data for 2008 show 18 million total as enrolled in college for the entire US. There appear to be 2 million freshman openings per year at US 4-year colleges.

So I guess that means illegal aliens think we should give them the opportunity to take all our college seats? That doesn’t seem right.

Another thing no one is mentioning. Many colleges give preferences to low income students and students whose parents did not attend college. They would not be fairly competing at all.

This Dream Act is crazy. I am not stupid enough to fall for these phony arguments.

Why don’t these students tell their parents not to keep telling all their relatives to come here. It’s not good. I feel for them, but their parents did it to them.

Dear Cindy,
Read a history book please. You ancestors murdered 100 million Americans. Compare that number to 2.1 million that we are trying to save. I’m sure you can do math.

Of 2.1 people that qualify it is estimated that only 825,000 would take advantage of the law if passed, and of those most would join the military rather than college.

Don’t let fear cloud your mind or blind you over what is right.

Undocumented immigrants pay just as much in taxes as US citizens, PLEASE RESEARCH WHAT AN ITIN NUMBER IS!  so 825,000 would not be an extra burden, last time I checked even comunity college wasn’t free $27.00 per Unit here in SF.


Clearly those cases are incredibly sad and tragic. At the same time, understand such tragedies occur in any large society. What is the rate at which US born people commit such atrocities? Are you suggesting that US born people have a right to commit such vile behavior?

The Dream Act seems to be the best bill brought up to the House since Ronald regan’s attempt to fix immigration. As far as I am concern he was the only brave president to actual did work at least for some time. I am sure if were here he would have lobbied for the DREAM ACT, and so would Dr. Martin Luther King anf even JFK including Pope John Paul II. I’d say the DREAM Act should become law to end its status of being a bill and move to “DREAM ACT LaLAW”

okay saw it. go ahead and secure the borders but give the ones that are here a chance why dont we just check their police records if theirs anything like violant acts and stuff like that dont let them but the ones that are here to better their lives that are working hard to get ahead in life give them a chance

One thing common about those who oppose Dream Act:


Don’t be a moron and reply “But I’m Mexican.”

come on pro ileagle imagrent what is your anser to why 25americans have to die today and why 550 women have to be raped today and why 7 american childn have to be molested today all I here is silence you dont belong herte none of you this is our country come in the legal way everyone hates line jumpers

ha im with the dream act i want it to get passed so that i can join the military


First of all, the correct word is not “illegal,” but undocumented. Regardless of status, no humane person suggests that another being should not be “in existence” which is what “illegal” means.

As far as your 2 million argument, scroll up, I’ve already explained that this is semantics with a numbers issue. First of all, that is the upper level of the TOTAL population that may be affected by the DREAM Act, this includes toddlers all the way to college graduates that now want to contribute to their American economy. Second, private colleges don’t have immigration rules, so US born kids are already competing for this positions. We’re blessed with a nation that thrives with colleges so if there is a student out there that is US born, talented, and wants a degree they will find a way onto a college campus that fits them.

Plese read the actual Act before making stupid assumptions about it. to qualify you have to have been BROUGHT here while 15 or under.

of 2.1 mill that supposed to qualify,  less than half would take advantage. AND the ones that would enroll in college are prob already there! the rest would most likely join the military.

Don’t let paranoia cloud your common sence. Educate yourself before making ridiculous remarks (kenny)

Kenny is clearly upset that even undocumented teens can spell better than him.

frank they are tragic and would not happen if the ileagle invaders did not break our laws 15american people are killed every day by ileagle invaders driving drunk often they kill the bread winner of the family and of course thy have no insurance or licence and the poor family winds up homeless this would not happen if they did not sneak into the country and 550 women would be spared the inconvenience of being raped this is enough reason for me to keep you people out

Cindy Anderson you are WRONG….these kids will pay tuition that is FLAT MONEY to the State or private university and they would never qualify for financial aid and the least federal aid….....I see most people are ignorant about this issue….I prefer seeing these people busy getting educated off the streets you might never know one of these kids might be feeeding your descendants in the future…......

angle maybe the ileagle invader is mad that I am an american and thay are not

Kim Pereira it appears you are an immgrant yourself keep one thing clear in your head IMMIGRANTS legal and illegal gave you tis country and the american dream… are talking rocks…besides you are probably hispanic…........and it comes with the territorry you are as ignorant as a bat…............

How generous would the government of Mexico be to Americans living illegally in Mexico who DEMANDED help with THEIR college education?  The next time you have a have a rally in the USA and wave those Mexican national flags, you might ask yourselves why you don’t have broad support among most Americans.

kenny not all illegals are criminals. not all americans are criminals…..get your facts straight

hahaha…  someone has a personal grudge


Google “pew research DREAM ACT.” The vast majority of the American public does support this measure.

but please one of you pro ileagle invader anser isint it trur that 25americans would not be killed and 550 women would not be raped if you people would follow our laws

Correction.  Anyone living illegally in ANY country in the world is considered a criminal.

kenny the same thing can be said for anything as for example the innocent people that died in hiroshima…...........

Speeding and running a light is a higher offence (criminal)  than being in a country illegally (civil).

Geez, go to college…

Durb then it is true a criminal can be and is a better father, human being than you are…so what does that make you?

well said Angel


Obviously there are more lefties here than normal
people.  They always go to personal attacks when they have no supportable position.

american what the hell are you talking about are you drunk you sound so stupid who turned on your computer for you

kenny McCain is nobody he should have retored long time ago, had he been the president we would have been at War with Iran…...........he is too old ...lok at his legacy the worst of his class, shot down on his first flights, sang llike a bird to the enemies and his father btrayed the US at the attack of ths USS LIberty 1966 educated yourself….all he cares ia bout himself and the truth is that his vision is as good as his life expectancy for htis country

kenny you appear to be the average person that is ignorant, uneducated and brainless….you are no american and a wannabe one….embrace your country and be one

John McCain and the republicans (my party, btw) do not control what is introduced in the Senate. I never thought I’d side with democrats on an issue, but the Dream Act will only help our military and allow college-bound students to contribute more to our economy. They will pay more in taxes because they can get actual jobs, start businesses and employ others. This is the only country they know…they know it as home. Would you rather they stay in the shadows working for poverty-level wages?

Kenny, you should invest in some education (or at least a spell-checker). One day you may be asking a former undocumented immigrant for a job.

hey american ask who ever turned on you computer to turn on your spell check

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