In the absence of an immigration overhaul, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced yesterday that he will attached the DREAM Act as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill next week. The DREAM Act, which enjoys bipartisan support, would provide legal status to students who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 15, have lived in the U.S for at least five years, graduated from a U.S. high school and are pursuing their education or serving in the military. Some fear the DREAM Act will detract from a larger immigration overhaul; others see it as a “down payment” toward broader reform; while critics see it as a political calculation needed to turn out Hispanic voters for midterms. But however you slice it, the question remains whether Sen. Reid can muster the 60 votes necessary for cloture.

At a press conference yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced plans to move the DREAM Act forward next week. According to Sen. Reid:

Kids who grew up as Americans should be able to get their green card to go to college or serve in the military … I think it is really important that we move forward on this legislation. I know we can’t do comprehensive immigration reform. I’ve tried to, I’ve tried so very, very hard. I’ve tried different iterations of this, but those Republicans we had in the last Congress left us.

The DREAM Act (S. 729 and H.R. 1751), re-introduced in both houses in 2009, would allow qualified young people—who were brought to the U.S. without documentation—to adjust their status to “conditional permanent resident” given he/she meets the necessary requirements. Approximately 114,000 potential beneficiaries with at least an associate’s degree would be immediately eligible for conditional legal permanent resident (LPR) status, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Another 612,000 potential beneficiaries would be immediately eligible for conditional status because they already have a high school diploma or GED and 934,000 children under 18 could be eligible for conditional LPR status in the future under the DREAM Act.

Although President Obama has reiterated his support for the DREAM Act, he told La Opinion last week that he wanted to make sure there was still movement on broader reform:

I just don’t want anybody to think that if we somehow just do the DREAM Act, that that solves the problem. We’ve got a bigger problem that we have to solve. We still need comprehensive immigration reform. The DREAM Act can be an important part of that, and, as I said, I’m a big supporter of that. But I also want to make sure that we don’t somehow give up on the bigger strategy.

Recall that the DREAM Act failed in a cloture vote in 2007, failing 8 votes short—52 to 44. To date, the DREAM Act has 39 cosponsors in the Senate and 128 in the House, with bipartisan support in both.

Most recently, senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) urged the White House and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to halt the deportation of eligible DREAM Act students in the absence of a larger immigration overhaul. According to Politico, however, cosponsor Sen. Lugar has yet to say whether he supports attaching the DREAM Act to the defense bill.

To further complicate matters, the defense bill also has a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal amendment attached, which would lift the ban on gays and lesbians openly serving in the armed forces. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called the DADT amendment nothing more than pure politicking:

Harry Reid does everything for political reasons. It’s a political promise that the president made and it is an effort to get this done before [Democrats] lose the elections in November.

Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the DREAM amendment would make the defense bill “needlessly controversial.”

Photo by treehugger.