Facing uphill climb, DREAM Act supporters target Senate's 'Most Wanted'

Advocates for legislation providing illegal-immigrant students a way to remain in the country lawfully launched a last-minute effort this week to rally centrist senators behind the bill.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) released a "most wanted" list on Tuesday targeting 10 Senate lawmakers — three Democrats and seven Republicans — in hopes of getting the DREAM Act over the finish line before the 111th Congress adjourns.

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"We don't want them to be able to hide behind closed doors," NHLA Chairwoman Lillian Rodríguez-López said by telephone. "We need them to let us know where they stand."

NHLA is targeting Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo), and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Scott Brown (Mass.), George Voinovich (Ohio) and George LeMieux (Fla.).

The lawmakers have been singled out either because they've supported the DREAM Act in the past, or because the states they represent have significant Hispanic populations.

DREAM Act proponents have a tough road ahead. Although the bill passed the House last week, it faces a much steeper climb in the Senate, where a GOP filibuster will require at least 60 votes to send the bill to President Obama, who supports it.

The Senate passed the DREAM Act as part of comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, but a stand-alone measure considered a year later fell eight votes shy of the 60 needed to move forward.

At least four of the 10 senators on NHLA's list say they'll oppose the bill if it comes up in the lame-duck.

Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson, for instance, said the Nebraska Democrat — who voted in favor of the bill in 2007 — now opposes any major immigration reform until the U.S. border is secure.

Hagan's office, meanwhile, said the DREAM Act shouldn't be considered as a stand-alone bill.

“Senator Hagan is committed to achieving practical, bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform that will secure our borders, hold employers accountable for their hiring practices, and strengthen our guest worker system," spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in an e-mail. "Senator Hagan believes the DREAM Act should be considered in the context of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Brown on Monday told The Boston Globe the bill creates "a backdoor amnesty" for illegal aliens — "I'm not supportive of it," he said.

Graham — who supported the proposal in both 2006 and 2007 — issued a statement after Thursday's House vote announcing his current opposition.

“Illegal immigration is a nightmare for America," Graham said. "Giving a pathway to citizenship without first securing the border is an inducement to encourage more illegal immigration."

McCaskill, who voted against the DREAM Act in 2007, remains undecided, according to spokeswoman Laura Myron.

Of the 10 lawmakers being targeted by NHLA, only one has announced his support. Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke said Friday that the Indiana Republican — a leading sponsor of past versions of the bill — will vote for the proposal if it comes up as a stand-alone. Republican Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) has made similar statements.
 
The offices of the other four senators did not respond to requests for comment.

Sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the nine-year-old DREAM Act would create a pathway to permanent residency — and, eventually, citizenship — for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, have the equivalent of a high school degree, and enter college or the military.

Supporters argue it offers motivated children the opportunity to achieve their potential toward the betterment of the country; critics maintain it would reward law-breakers and steal jobs from U.S. citizens. 

The Senate is expected to take up the DREAM Act either this week or next. 

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