WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he wants to attach an amendment to a defense policy bill that would help young people in the United States illegally become legal U.S. residents.
The Nevada Democrat said at a Capitol news conference that the legislation known as the DREAM Act is long overdue. He would not say whether he has the votes for the amendment. The act would allow young people who attend college or join the military to become legal U.S. residents.
The young people must have come to the country when they were under 16 years of age and have been in the country five years. Those who join the military must serve at least two years and complete two years of college.
Democrats have also promised gay rights groups an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy" that bars gays from serving openly in the military. That is in the bill that Reid said he will try to take up next week.
Republicans oppose both measures.
Asked whether he had the votes for the DREAM Act, Reid responded: "I sure hope so."
President Barack Obama has been under fire in the immigrant and Hispanic communities because Congress has failed to move an immigration reform bill despite his promise to deal with the issue in his first year in the Oval Office.
Some critics say Democrats' end-of-the-year push on immigration reform is a political move. Reid is facing a tough re-election challenge from tea party favorite Sharron Angle, who supports tougher immigration laws. Hispanics make up a quarter of Nevada's population.
A spokesman for the Nevada Republican Party declared Reid's announcement a campaign stunt.
"Nevada voters will overwhelmingly reject these desperate political parlor games that could only come from a 28-year establishment Democrat seeking a fifth term in the U.S. Senate," Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.
Reid blamed Republicans for the inability to pass a sweeping immigration reform bill.
"I've tried to. I've tried so very, very hard, but those Republicans we've had in the last Congress (who backed immigration reform) have left us," he said.
Minutes before Reid announced his plans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell described the defense policy bill as "needlessly controversial" because of the inclusion of the "don't ask, don't tell" measure and plans to add the DREAM Act.
"I can't tell you right now how easy it will be to move forward with that bill," said McConnell.