Senate fails to pass DREAM Act

On Saturday morning, the Senate failed to advance the DREAM Act (H.R. 5281) on a vote of 55-41. Sixty votes were needed to move the bill forward procedurally and stop any filibuster. With that loss, our fight for the DREAM Act is over, at least for this Congress. Our president, David Leopold, said: “It was sad to see some U.S. Senators putting politics before principles to vote no on cloture, thereby attaching their names to the wrong side of history.”

Watch David Leopold's full reaction to the Senate's failed vote.

The vote tally in support of DREAM included three Republicans who crossed the aisle to join 50 Democrats and 2 Independents. Those three Rs were: Richard Lugar (IN) and Robert Bennett (UT) who had come out in support long ago and Lisa Murkowski (AK) who started signaling this week that she would vote “yes”. With their yes votes, DREAM maintained its status as a bi-partisan bill dating back nine years to when it was first introduced with seven Republican co-sponsors. Today, long-time DREAM champion Orrin Hatch (R-UT) failed even to show for the bill he originally sponsored in August 2001.

Unfortunately the gain of three Republicans today was not enough to make up the difference. Combined there are 58 Democrats and Independents in the Senate, and there are 42 Republicans. If all the Ds and Is voted in favor, only two Rs would have been needed to reach 60. But today 5 Democrats voted against DREAM: Baucus (MT); Hagan (NC); Nelson (NE); Pryor (AR); and Tester (MT). And one Democrat, newly elected Joe Manchin (WV) failed to show. To win on “cloture” 60 votes were needed no matter how many actually voted. Thus, a no-show counted as a “no” vote.

As the 111th Congress comes to its sputtering halt, at least on immigration, the question many are asking is whether there will be a real opportunity to bring up DREAM in the 112th. Looking forward, we face at least two enormous legislative challenges: First, the House will shift to Republican control with 242 Rs and 193 Ds. Last week the House passed DREAM on a 218-198 vote—you can bet your house we won’t muster a strong showing like that, let alone a majority, when the new session starts. Second, in the Senate, the Democrats will still have the majority but their margin of control will be 53-47 so getting the “yes” votes will also be harder in that chamber.

For me the source of continued inspiration has been to see all the DREAM activists walking the halls of the capitol and showing tremendous courage when they are the ones who have everything at risk. Before the vote, David Leopold and I accompanied his client, Bernard Pastor, whom ICE was about to deport just two days ago but for incredible advocacy on David’s part and that of many others. We visited Senator Voinovich and waited outside his office until he came in at 9:30. Voinovich disappointed us -as did many of his colleagues- but Bernard remained hopeful as we headed to the Hill for the vote.

After the vote, all the Dreamers who watched from the Senate gallery came filing out, many with tears in their eyes. About 50 of them huddled together, said a prayer then chanted “We want the Dream Act and we want it now”. Then in Spanish: “Obama, Escucha, Estamos en La Lucha!”

Now more than ever we need and want the DREAM Act. In the new Congress an even tougher fight will be on. As we struggle to advocate on behalf of our clients and for broader reform, we will be able to keep on fighting knowing they are in the fight with us.

Greg Chen
Director of Advocacy