Latino Republicans Broke Ranks on DREAM

In the end, it was three Latino Republicans from Florida who helped pass the DREAM Act through the House.

Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and brothers Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Mario Díaz-Balart voted yes on the controversial legislation, three of only eight Republicans to break ranks and side with the Democrats.

The vote was 216-198.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Thursday.

If passed in the Senate, the DREAM Act will give hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, who have been in the country for five years and graduated from high school or gained a GED. They would have a chance to gain legal status if they joined the military or attended college.

The three Latinos who voted the measure, all Cuban-American, sided with 208 Democrats on its passage.

Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, who represents Florida's 21st District, announced his retirement earlier this year after 20 years on the job. His younger brother, Mario, who currently represents the state's 25th district, won his brother's seat in November's election and will take over next month.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, meanwhile, represents the state's 18th congressional district. She is the most senior Republican woman in the House.

The majority of their fellow Republican fiercely disagreed.

Iowa Rep. Steve King, a staunch opponent of the DREAM ACT, said the bill only passed because it came through in a lame duck session.

"The passage of the DREAM Act amnesty bill in the House of Representatives is an illegitimate act of a repudiated and rejected lame duck Congress," he said. "Lame duck sessions of Congress should not be used to move large and controversial agenda items like the DREAM Act amnesty bill.

"The fact that the outgoing Democratic leadership in the House is subverting the Rule of Law by rewarding millions of illegal aliens for their presence in the country is an act of spite aimed at America's voters," he added.

For many Hispanics, on the other hand, the vote was a dream come true.

"The passage of the Dream Act is an important step forward for many who until now thought the dream of achieving a higher education an impossibility," said Tamara Morales, vice president of Casa Puebla-New Jersey, a Mexican organization. "This is what America is about."

The vote marked a victory for President Obama, too, who supported the bill after intense pressure from Hispanics who felt he hadn't done enough for the Hispanic bloc that helped elect him.

"This vote is not only the right thing to do for a group of talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own by continuing their education or serving in the military, but it is the right thing for the United States of America," Obama said. "We are enriched by their talents and the success of their efforts will contribute to our nation's success and security."

But the bill has a large hurdle to overcome: the U.S. Senate. It needs 60 votes. And with Republicans taking over next month, failure to enact the legislation would all but kill it for years.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian said it hoped the Senate would keep the dream alive for undocumented students.

"Let's keep up the faith that the Senate will proceed accordingly and the Dream Act will become law on behalf of thousands of young future Americans, that will make our nation proud again," said Rev. Miguel Rivera, the group's chairman of the Board of Directors.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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