A showdown was expected in the U.S. Senate yesterday on a bill designed to give young undocumented immigrants the chance to earn legal status if they pursue college or the military, but Senate leaders decided to postpone the vote.
The so-called DREAM Act passed in the House Wednesday night, 216-198.
In a statement yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said "The Senate will move to the House-passed version of the bill later this month."
The House version has several key revisions. DREAM Act applicants would have to pay surcharges totaling $2,525 and would have to wait 10 years before applying for permanent legal status.
Similar to a revised Senate bill, the House bill also restricts the applicant pool to people under age 30 rather than under age 35.
To apply for conditional status, undocumented youths would have to have their high school diploma or GED, have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, lived here for the last five years, and passed criminal background checks.
To apply for permanent legal status, they'd have to have completed two years of college or military service and wait 10 years. Applicants would not be eligible for federal education grants.
Margie McHugh, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, in Washington, said it appears that Senate leaders postponed the vote to gain time to muster more support for the bill.
"Assuming the Senate gets past the major stumbling block of tax cuts and spending bills, that would presumably lessen resistance for some Republicans," she said.
The think tank estimates that 619,000 people ages 18 to 29 would be eligible to apply for conditional status if the bill passes.
Predictions vary on whether the bill can pass in the lame-duck Senate. If it doesn't, it faces a harder chance of passing next year when Republicans take control of the House and add to their seats in the Senate.
Maria Marroquín, 23, a Philadelphia undocumented resident and co-founder of the group DreamActivist Pennsylvania, was in the House gallery Wednesday night during the vote.
"It was pretty exciting. It was an emotional day," she said yesterday from Washington.
"We're hopeful that the Senate will show the same kind of courage by passing this bill," said Marroquín, who was 13 when her parents brought her here from Peru, then overstayed tourist visas.
Supporters of the bill say undocumented young people brought into the country by their parents should not be punished for their parents' actions, are Americanized and can contribute to the U.S. economy and military.
Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, both Democrats, have expressed support for the DREAM Act.
Critics, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., have repeatedly called it a "mass amnesty."
The bill also rankles some Philadelphia residents, including Glenn Wilson, 63. "I do prison ministry," he said. "What I see behind the walls are men who have changed but are permanently barred by some things because of the felon tag."
He said undocumented immigrants like Marroquín "all seem like wonderful people," but "my problem is they are here illegally. The DREAM Act wipes their slate clean. They are no longer lawbreakers. That would be wonderful if there was not a permanent underclass primarily made up of black and Hispanic men who . . . can be denied student loans, they can be denied housing, they can be denied employment opportunities."
President Obama and Cabinet members including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have spoken in favor of the bill in recent weeks.
Cecilia Muñoz, Obama's director of intergovernmental affairs, said the bill was not an amnesty, because applicants would have to meet a "host of requirements."