By Alexander Bolton - 12/09/10 05:10 PM EST
Senate Democrats voted Thursday to postpone consideration of the DREAM Act, giving themselves a chance to take up a House-passed version of the bill after this week.
The bill is popular among Hispanic voters who helped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) win reelection.
Reid scheduled a vote to proceed to it Thursday but then switched course after the House passed a version of the bill Wednesday night. The Senate voted 59 to 40 to table a motion to take up the Senate version of the bill.
The differences between the Senate and House bills are merely technical. But taking up the House bill will save the lower chamber from re-voting on the matter.
The House version passed Wednesday night by a vote of 216 to 198 — eight Republicans voted yes and 38 Democrats voted no.
Reid will be able to bring the House-passed DREAM Act to the floor at any time because it will come to the Senate as a message from the House with special privilege.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said it would not come to the floor this week but will certainly receive a vote before senators adjourn for the year.
Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) is the bill’s lone Republican co-sponsor.
Proponents of the legislation say they need about five Republican votes to make up for Democratic opposition.
It’s uncertain whether Reid will be able to muster those votes considering the scant record of bipartisan cooperation this year. Conservatives have slammed the bill as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, and it remains highly controversial among GOP base voters.
Several Republicans voted to consider the DREAM Act when the Senate last voted on it in 2007: Sens. Robert Bennett (Utah), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Lugar and Olympia Snowe (Maine).
Opponents successfully filibustered the bill in 2007, which fell eight votes short of the 60 it needed.
The new version includes several changes to address criticisms of the bill.
It would grant “conditional nonimmigrant” status to the children of illegal immigrants if they arrived in the country at the age of 15 or younger and lived here for five years or more.
The legislation also requires candidates to have graduated from high school or have obtained a GED; submits biometric information; undergo a law-enforcement background check and medical examination.
People who have committed a felony or three misdemeanors, voter fraud or marriage fraud would be disqualified.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the lead co-sponsor, urged his colleagues Thursday morning to support it.
“It is a very strict standard that we impose here but it’s one that these young people are anxious to meet,” Durbin said of the conditions imposed on illegal immigrant children who would qualify for legal status. “These young people that would be affected by the DREAM Act are some of the most amazing, inspiring people I’ve ever met.”