Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin greets Mandeep Chahal on Wednesday at an honorary graduation ceremony for students who would be eligible for a path to U.S. citizenship under the DREAM Act.
There is little chance Congress will pass legislation overhauling the country's immigration system before the 2012 elections, but supporters of reform intend to keep pushing lawmakers on the issue.
Although substantive legislative activity on reform has been abandoned, activists and their Democratic allies in the House and Senate said this week they will continue to focus on moving forward on the DREAM Act — legislation providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children but agree to go to college or to serve in the military.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the point of reintroducing the bill — despite its long odds — was to "remind America that we have a very important piece of unfinished business ... [and to] make it clear we're not only reintroducing this bill but are firmly committed" to its passage.
Republicans bristle at what they characterize as politicizing a difficult issue.
During a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration hearing on the bill Tuesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said that while he sympathizes with supporters, he is frustrated "at the way this issue has been wielded as a political weapon."
Cornyn criticized the handling of the DREAM Act, arguing such efforts "had all of the hallmarks of a cynical effort to use the hopes and dreams of these young people as a political wedge in the runup to the 2012 election."
Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, acknowledged that passing the DREAM Act in either chamber with the current lineup is all but impossible. But Tuesday's hearing and a coordinated campaign launch by activists this week reaffirms that "our somewhat immediate objective is to keep the pressure on," he said.
"Does it look like we have a good chance in this Congress with [House Judiciary Chairman] Lamar Smith [Texas] driving the message for Republicans? No, it looks pretty grim indeed," Sharry said. "But if Republicans continue to stand in the way and they get spanked in the 2012 elections, it improves our chances in 2013."
Durbin, who has championed the DREAM Act for years, said he will "look for any opportunity to bring it forward" and keep the issue at the forefront, even if passage is not a possibility.
Following suit, students who would be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act launched their own grass-roots campaign, piggybacking off the Senate hearing. Sharry said such efforts apply pressure to lawmakers and inspire voters who are friendly to immigrants.
In the meantime, Sharry said, President Barack Obama's administration has a paltry record pushing for immigration reform, and the president must pick up his efforts to win over Hispanic voters, a crucial component of his re-election strategy.
Obama touched on the issue at his press conference Wednesday, giving a nod to the DREAM Act and calling for reform.
"We may not be able to get everything that I would like to see in a package, but we have to have a balanced package. ... For example, making sure that DREAM Act kids ... can stay," Obama said.