Senate Democratic leaders vowed to pass the controversial immigration bill known as the DREAM Act by the end of the year, after delaying a vote on Thursday because they couldn't advance a House-approved version past Republican opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the upper chamber, said in a joint statement that they will work with House leaders and the administration to ensure that the bill, which would carve out a path to legalization for hundreds of thousands of foreign-born youngsters brought to this country illegally, will be law by the end of the lame-duck session.
"The DREAM Act is not a symbolic vote," they said. "We owe it to the young men and women whose lives will be affected by this bill, and to the country which needs their service in the military and their skills in building our economy, to honestly address this issue."
"Members on both sides of the aisle need to ask themselves if we can afford to say to these talented young men and women there is no place in America for you," they added.
The House passed its version on Wednesday night, prompting Reid to try and shelve a different version of the bill introduced by a fellow lawmaker. But when Republicans refused to let Reid take up the House version, he effectively let the Senate kill the older version, potentially clearing the way for a DREAM Act vote on the House bill next week.
"We still hope to consider it before we leave," a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Fox News.
The White House expressed support for Reid's move.
"Last night's approval of the DREAM Act in the House of Representatives was a historic and important step," a White House spokesman said. "We agree with the Senate leadership's decision to table the version under consideration in that chamber in favor of taking up the version approved in the House."
Democrats always faced an uphill climb to muster the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation over opposition by most Republicans and a handful of their own members.
The House passed the legislation Wednesday night after Democratic leaders painstakingly lined up the votes to push it through.
Supporters view the bill as a step toward eventually giving the nation's 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants a chance to gain legal status.
Critics denounce the bill as a backdoor amnesty grant that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the United States in hopes of eventually being legalized as well.
With the GOP taking control of the House and representing a stronger minority in the Senate next year, failure to enact the legislation by year's end would dim the prospects for action by Congress to grant a path toward legalization for the nation's millions of undocumented immigrants.
Obama's drive to enact the legislation and congressional Democrats' determination to vote on it before year's end reflect the party's efforts to satisfy Hispanic groups whose backing has been critical in elections and will be again in 2012.
The legislation would give hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16, and who have been here for five years and graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree, a chance to gain legal status if they joined the military or attended college.
Hispanic activists have described the DREAM Act as the least Congress can do on the issue. It targets the most sympathetic of the millions of undocumented people -- those brought to the United States as children, who in many cases consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to or family living in their native countries.
Students who would be eligible for legalization under the bill fanned out across Capitol Hill to personally lobby lawmakers to back the measure. Seated in the House gallery to watch the debate Wednesday night, a group of them broke out in cheers upon passage of measure, and Democrats turned to applaud them in turn.
Fox News' Trish Turner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.