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Obama's Incremental Approach to Immigration Overhaul Falls Short of Expectations

Sen. Harry Reid failed to get enough votes for the DREAM Act while Stephen Colbert delivered a performance that overshadowed AGJobs bill he supports. (AP)

With comprehensive immigration overhaul off the table, President Obama and his Democratic allies have tried smaller proposals to provide illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship or permanent legal residency -- a strategy that is now being called into question after two efforts fell flat this week.

First, Democrats failed to muster enough votes in the Senate to pass the DREAM Act, which would allow hundreds of thousands of young people to legally remain in the U.S.

Then comedian Stephen Colbert tried to bring attention to the AGJobs bill, which would legalize about 2 million undocumented migrant laborers who have worked on farms for at least two years, by testifying in front of a House panel at the request of Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.. 

But Colbert's joke-filled testimony overshadowed the bill, which has languished in Congress for years, as lawmakers argued over whether his performance was appropriate.

With midterm elections just over a month away, the chances of any kind of immigration reform passing this year grows slimmer by the day, disappointing many advocates who had hoped an incremental approach would be the first step to addressing the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

"This country can't continue having 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. We can't sustain it," said Tyler Moran, the policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group for low-income immigrants.

"As much as this is a lightning rod issue and caught up in politics, something has to get done," she told FoxNews.com. "People are not going to go home. You have to come up with solutions."

Moran said her group is still hopeful that Congress will pass the DREAM Act after the elections during a lame-duck session when lawmakers are no longer focused on saving their jobs..

"After the election, people will be able to vote their conscience," she said.

But some lawmakers aren't willing to wait.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J, vowed earlier this month to unveil a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill before the November elections.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told the Hill newspaper that he's confident that Senate will take another shot at passing the DREAM Act, pointing to a Senate rule that allows the bill, with two days' notice, to be brought to the chamber's floor for consideration at any time.

"I'm really really hopeful," he told the newspaper. "Their clear intent is to give it another try. When? That's up to them."

Democrats attached the DREAM Act as an amendment to a defense spending bill that Republicans blocked along with two Democrats.

The DREAM Act allows young people to become legal U.S. residents after spending two years in college or the military. It applies to those who were under 16 when they arrived in the U.S., have been in the country at least five years and have a diploma from a U.S. high school or the equivalent.

"There was a lost opportunity to get on a moving vehicle but that wasn't a vote on the DREAM Act," Moran said, who described the vote as a success because she said it led to more than 300,000 calls and faxes to members of Congress in support of the bill.

"It really demonstrated our power and hopefully sent a message," she said.

The Obama administration has deferred the deportation of some of the young people while the politics of the bill played out, drawing heavy criticism from some Republicans. 

The administration is also, under a new policy, halting deportation proceedings for up to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who are married or related to a U.S. citizen or a legal resident who has filed a petition on their behalf. Illegal immigrants with criminal convictions do not qualify under the plan. Critics have called the new policy a free pass for illegals.

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