Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he will add the DREAM Act, a controversial and divisive immigration measure, onto a defense policy bill the Senate plans to consider next week. With his political maneuver, Reid hopes to divide Republicans between voting in favor of the defense bill -- a measure that would likely normally pass with bipartisan support -- and in opposition to the DREAM Act. Also attached to the defense bill is a measure to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy barring gays from openly serving in the armed forces.
The DREAM Act --or the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act -- would provide a path to citizenship for young immigrants currently living in the country illegally so they can freely enroll in school or serve in the military. "I know we can't do comprehensive immigration reform," Reid said at a news conference. "But those Republicans we had in the last Congress have left us."
In the past, the DREAM Act fell short of cloture in the Senate. This time, however, the bill has a supporter in the White House. President Barack Obama helped to pass similar legislation while in the Illinois state legislature, and has voiced support for the federal legislation on the campaign trail.
Critics say the legislation would spend federal money on undocumented immigrants at the expense of American citizens and may actually encourage illegal immigration. They also argue that DREAM Act is little more than amnesty disguised as education reform and that American citizens would be forced to compete with undocumented immigrants for access to the country's colleges and universities.
Reid himself is facing a tough reelection campaign that may come down to key votes from the Latino community. In addition, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have previously promised immigration activist groups and labor unions progress in moving toward citizenship for America's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. The DREAM Act may prove to be Democrats' last best hope of appeasing Hispanic voters before the election without alienating other voting blocs who oppose amnesty for illegals.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Reid's decision "needlessly controversial."
The Senate will need 60 votes to take up the bill next week, and Reid said Tuesday he is not yet sure if he has enough votes.