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House Approves Controversial DREAM Act

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With the final days of the 111th Congress winding down, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill bet on a last-ditch showdown over immigration reform Wednesday evening as the House of Representatives narrowly approved the DREAM Act -- the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2010.  The LA Times reports:

The legislation would give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants a chance at becoming legal. The requirements state that, to be eligible, a person must have been brought to the United States before he or she was 16, been in the United States for five years, earned a high-school degree and be attending college or be in the military.

In recent days, Democrats had aimed to pick up some Republican support by dropping the maximum eligible age from 35 to 29, extending the waiting period for a green card from six to 10 years and eliminating the requirement that DREAM Act youth pay tuition at in-state rates rather than out-of-state rates. In-state tuition, which is what undocumented students in California pay, amounts to an average annual public subsidy of about $6,000 nationally per student.

Some Democrats, in an effort to attract Republicans in agricultural states, had also pushed to add to the DREAM Act provisions to ease the process to bring in legal farm workers.

The bill now moves to the Senate where a vote is scheduled for Thursday.  However, most doubt Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will have the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican opposition.

The issue of immigration reform was a pivotal one for many Latino voters who showed up at the polls in support of Democrats during the midterm elections this fall.  With a plan for a comprehensive overhaul of the country's immigration system permanently stalled, Democrats hoped the DREAM Act would be a signature success of the Democrat-controlled White House and Congress.

The Obama administration reiterated its strong support of the DREAM Act  in a statement delivered Wednesday: "While the broader immigration debate continues, the administration urges the Senate to take this important step and pass the DREAM Act."  But with Republicans ready to retake control of the House of Representatives in January, the measure signaled Democrats' last chance to deliver tangible change for their supporters before President Obama faces reelection in 2012.

Facing defeat, immigration advocates say they won’t give up. In coming months, the LA Times reports, these advocacy groups will assess their options -- including recruiting supporters from a growing number of Latino voters as 2012 national elections draw nearer.

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