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Roll Call

Dick Durbin, Democrats Continue DREAM Push

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin is calling on supporters of the DREAM Act to encourage Republicans to take up the cause.

The move is part of a strategy to appeal to the hearts of the opposition and put a face to the issue of illegal immigration, the Illinois Democrat said after giving a speech at the Center for American Progress on the bill Tuesday.

“It gives our critics a challenge: Take a look at these young people and explain why you wouldn’t give them this chance,” Durbin said after returning to the Capitol. “I think it is working.”

Although the legislation to provide a path to citizenship for the children of some undocumented immigrants is unlikely to see the light of day in this Congress, Durbin’s comments are a sign that Democrats continue to see the issue as a political winner, particularly in an election year.

“It is a political issue because there are more and more minority voters and many of them have children and relatives who are affected by this,” Durbin said. “From that perspective, some Republicans have told me privately that they think the Republican position on immigration is deadly for their future.”

His comments also come as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday met in his office with a high-profile DREAM Act-eligible student from Nevada and had a videoconference with other Nevada DREAM students.

Republicans have been supporting alternative legislation that was being crafted by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) along with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas).

The DREAM Act “creates citizenship and permits a person who was here illegally to immediately turn around and petition for the people who brought them here illegally to become U.S. citizens. That’s not right,” Kyl said, adding, “that’s just one” of several issues he has with the measure.

Democrats have been critical of the Rubio effort because he has not produced any legislation. But given a new policy announced by the White House last month, it’s unclear whether proponents plan to push for its passage. Kyl said he was unsure whether the bill would be unveiled this year.

The White House announced the new policy last month, which would allow people who were brought to the United States as children younger than 16, who do not present a risk to national security or public safety and who meet several key criteria to “be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings.”

“They grew up in America and have overcome the odds to achieve success. We’ve already invested in them by educating them in our schools. And they have great potential to contribute to our country,” Durbin said in his speech.

On Aug. 15, the administration will begin accepting applications for deferred action, and Durbin is urging eligible people to apply and to tell their story.

“Thousands of DREAMers will step forward, and I believe this will forever change the debate about immigration reform in America,” he said at CAP. “As America learns about the DREAMers in our midst — going to school with our children, praying with us in our churches, temples and mosques and ready to contribute their talent to getting our economy back on track — support for the DREAM Act will build and for comprehensive immigration reform.”

The Illinois Democrat has built a reputation for taking to the Senate floor to highlight the stories of the DREAM Act-eligible kids, and on Tuesday he gave a speech on the 50th individual to get the Durbin treatment.    

Nevertheless, prospects for a vote in the upcoming lame-duck session after the November elections are also highly unlikely, Durbin said, given opposition from the Republican-led House.

“The House won’t take anything up, so it’d just be an empty symbolic gesture,” Durbin said after his speech. “In a new Congress, we’ll see.”

However, Durbin is upbeat about building support for the measure and has been working with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to build a coalition.

“I’ve talked to a lot of Republican Senators, and I think we have a chance … to come back to a new Congress and address this again,” Durbin said.

In his speech, Durbin warned the CAP audience that a new president could repeal the Obama policy, which is just an executive order.

Asked whether he thinks presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would repeal the proposal, Durbin said, “I think it would be a serious mistake if he did. I think public sentiment would be on the DREAMers. They followed the law, and to use that against them would be considered unfair.”

Some Republicans opposed to the White House policy and to the DREAM Act have said they might take their concerns to court.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who believes the president violated the Constitution with his edict, has threatened such a plan of action.

But Durbin dismissed the notion that the court would side with King

The policy states that “we are lowering the priority here, we are saying we are not going to deport these [DREAM Act students], we will dedicate our resources to those that may be a challenge or problem for our future,” Durbin said. “That is a clearly recognized principle of law. Congressman King, we know where he’s coming from, and he can continue this if he’d like, but after all that we’ve been through and all these DREAMers have been through, a court challenge is not going to slow us down one bit.”

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