A bill that would have paved the way for undocumented kids to obtain U.S. citizenship was tabled today by the Senate, which voted 55 to 41 to set it aside.
The DREAM Act, which stands for the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors, would have provided a road to citizenship for children who entered the U.S. at age under 16, have lived in the country for at least five years, and commit to two years of college or the military.
The bill was seen by advocates as the best hope for legislation that would help legalize some of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented residents.
Repeated efforts over the years to pass a comprehensive immigration reform measure have failed.
Political leaders and immigrants rights groups who wanted a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants who met a strict set of criteria then narrowed their focus, putting their energy behind the DREAM Act. They believed the DREAM Act had a better chance of getting the support of the American public because it pivoted on the notion of children penalized because of the actions of their parents.
The bill had passed the House of Representatives. Democrats were eager to pass the legislation through the lame-duck session, just before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives next month.
Republicans and anti-immigrant groups fiercely opposed the measure, dismissing it as a form of amnesty for law-breakers. American residents, they have argued, should not have to foot the bill so that young immigrants without documents could prosper.
The measure, a political football for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, became a bargaining chip this month in discussions that ultimately led to President Obama's extension of the so-called Bush tax cuts.
"This defeat of the DREAM Act amnesty marks the end of an era in which the American jobs were constantly under attack,” said a statement from NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for strict enforcement of immigration laws, after the vote. "Now, we look forward to moving aggressively to offense. The next Congress has the strongest pro-enforcement membership since 1995 and probably since 1924."
The president's official Twitter account, meanwhile, sent out this message: "Despite today's disappointing Senate vote, my administration will not give up on the DREAM Act, or on fixing our broken immigration system."
Obama fully supported the DREAM Act. Members of his administration, including his director of White House intergovernmental affairs and a top Pentagon official, touted the benefits of passing the bill, citing, among other benefits, its potential to add to the pool of recruits for the armed forces.
Supporters also argued that children should not be punished for the decision of their parents to live in the United States illegally. They said the immigration-related barriers to higher education and employment for youth who are educated and bred in the United States amounted to wasted potential for the country.
The defeat is a crushing blow for the president, whom pro-immigrant Hispanics have criticized for not following through on his campaign promise to make comprehensive immigration reform a top priority.