WASHINGTON — Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, unmoved by protests and marches, voted with Senate Republicans today to block a bill to provide citizenship for thousands of foreign-born students.
President Barack Obama and Democratic supporters failed to muster the 60 votes necessary to cut off a Republican filibuster and move the so-called DREAM Act to the Senate floor for passage.
The Senate vote to cut off debate failed, 55-41, essentially killing the legislation for this year.
Cornyn accused Democrats of trying to ram the legislation through in a lame-duck session of Congress, without hearings or an opportunity to amend the bill.
“I am sympathetic to the plight of children who have no moral culpability for being in this country illegally and I support the intent of the bill today, but not this legislation and not this way,” Cornyn said.
Students protested and held hunger strikes in San Antonio and other cities nationwide in an effort to break a partisan logjam and get Congress to pass a decade’s old bill to provide a path to citizenship for those brought into this country illegally.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the bill has been “a 10-year battle for me” and acknowledged students in the Senate gallery watching the vote who traveled from Austin.
Durbin used the plight of Benita Veliz, a St. Mary’s University graduate and Jefferson High School valedictorian who faces deportation following a traffic stop in San Antonio, to illustrate his point.
A poster-sized picture of Veliz, who was brought to Texas at age 8 by her illegal immigrant parents, was displayed on the Senate floor as Durbin unsuccessfully pleaded for GOP support.
“While today’s vote was a setback, it has not changed our resolve,” Durbin said.
He said he would not give up the fight “as long as I am a member of Congress.”
In Houston, Maria Fernanda Cabello, one of a handful of students who gathered at a local office of the Service Employees International Union during the Senate debate, said she was disappointed by the vote.
“Millions of students are still depending on this so they can use their degrees in college,” said Cabello, 19, a student at Texas A&M University. “These are not criminals, these are students with good moral character who grew up in the United States. Their lives are at stake and it should not be treated as a political game.”
Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Fiel Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle, who has campaigned in favor of the bill, said the result did not come as a surprise, although he expected the vote to be closer. He said he was particularly disappointed in Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who voted against cutting off debate.
“We’re going to hold a lot of people that voted against it accountable, Espinosa said. “We’re going to continue to organize, we’re going to continue to mobilize, so this is not the end.”
The House passed the bill on a 216-198 vote last week, giving supporters hope as the bill headed toward a Senate showdown.
But an advertising campaign by immigration reform advocates and protests by students and activists failed to sway a half dozen Republican lawmakers, including Hutchison, Cornyn, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Sen. George LeMieux of Florida.
Hutchison also faced pressure from the political right. Latino groups saw her as a swing vote, despite her opposition to the bill, prompting conservative groups to threaten political consequences if she supported the bill.
Hutchison and other Republicans claimed the bill would create a chain reaction, providing citizenship to relatives and spouses of illegal immigrant students.
“I could not support the DREAM Act legislation brought before the Senate today because it expanded the scope of the bill beyond the intended individuals who were brought here as children and were educated in the United States,” Hutchison said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., championed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, a measure sought by immigration rights groups and Latinos who were instrumental in his narrow re-election in November.
Republicans accused Reid of playing politics with the immigration bill, which they called a “back door amnesty” for thousands of people in this country illegally.
Cornyn claimed the bill would still allow illegal immigrants with criminal records to apply and receive benefits.
He said Reid did not allow Republicans to offer amendments, such as one that would restrict people found guilty of crimes from receiving benefits under the bill.
In a statement, Obama described the Senate vote as “incredibly disappointing”.
“The DREAM Act is important to our economic competitiveness, military readiness, and law enforcement efforts,” the president said. “Moving forward, my administration will continue to do everything we can to fix our nation’s broken immigration system so that we can provide lasting and dedicated resources for our border security while at the same time restoring responsibility and accountability to the system at every level.”
Obama administration officials held news conferences daily to extol the bill, which would make eligible for citizenship and legal status those who were brought into this country before age 16, were here five years and served in the military or went to college for two years.
Successful applicants would receive a protective status for 10 years before they could receive citizenship.
The projected number of people who would be considered eligible ranged widely, from 300,000 to 2.1 million, and the costs varied under estimates by liberal and conservative groups.
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