tags: , , America’s Voice Research on Immigration Reform

Memo: A Handful of Republican Votes Needed to Turn DREAM Act Into Law

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As the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the DREAM Act this month, pressure is building on Senate Republicans to do their part and help the bill become law.  With a majority of Democratic senators supporting the bill, the only thing standing in the way of passing the legislation is a handful of Republican votes.  

The DREAM Act is a popular piece of immigration legislation that would strengthen the economy and the military.  The bill was originally drafted by conservative Republican senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), along with current champion Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), and has enjoyed strong bipartisan support over the years.  Just last week, the House passed its version of the legislation with support from eight Republicans.

A November 2010 poll conducted by Lake Research Partners found that the DREAM Act enjoys strong support across party lines.  Overall, 66 percent of American voters nationwide supported the DREAM Act, including majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (60%), and Republicans (57%).  A poll released last summer by First Focus similarly found that 70 percent of Americans supported the DREAM Act, including 80 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans. 

Among Latino voters, the DREAM Act is especially popular.  In election eve polling conducted by Latino Decisions in eight key 2010 states, 75 percent of Latino voters said passing the DREAM Act in short order was either “extremely important” or “very important.”  The upcoming DREAM Act vote is widely seen as a moment of truth by the Latino community, because senators will have to decide if they stand with young Latino leaders or against them.

Ever since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he intended to keep his promise and bring DREAM up for a vote in the lame duck session of Congress, Republican senators—caught between their nativist wing and the need to appeal to a broader group of voters in 2012 and beyond–have been looking for excuse after excuse to avoid a vote.  They even sent a letter to Reid threatening to hold unnamed bills hostage, in a blatant attempt to run out the clock on DREAM and other issues.  But Democrats have been systematically dismantling Republican excuses.  They significantly altered the DREAM Act requirements in response to Republican objections.  They dramatically changed the Senate floor schedule so that fiscal issues could be addressed, per Republican demands.  And now, as the number of days left on the congressional calendar wind down, Senate Democratic leaders are preparing for an up or down vote on the House-passed DREAM Act.  There really is nowhere else to hide: Republican senators finally do have to declare whether they are for or against the DREAM Act.

Based on previous immigration efforts, we know there are enough Republicans in the U.S. Senate today who could join with the Democrats and provide the sixty-vote majority needed for DREAM to become law.  The only thing potentially lacking is the will to do so.

Following is a chart of current Republican senators who have supported the DREAM Act and/or comprehensive immigration reform (including DREAM) in the past.  In addition to these, Senators Scott Brown (R-MA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and George LeMieux (R-FL) are also widely considered to be in play.  Currently, only a couple of Republican senators have announced their intention to vote for DREAM when it comes up later this month: Sens. Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).  But clearly, the potential exists for a number of their colleagues to join with them and provide the final votes needed to turn DREAM into law.    

Current Republican Senators Who Have Supported Immigration Reform
Senator Voted for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation (CIR) Voted for DREAM Act
Robert Bennett (UT) 2006; 2007 2007
Sam Brownback (KS) 2006 2007
Susan Collins (ME) 2006 2007
John Cornyn (TX)   2003
Lindsey Graham (SC) 2006; 2007  
Chuck Grassley (IA)   2003
Judd Gregg (NH) 2006; 2007  
Orrin Hatch (UT)   2007
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)   2007
Jon Kyl (AZ) 2007 2003
Richard Lugar (IN)* 2006; 2007 2007
John McCain 2006; 2007  
Lisa Murkowski (AK) 2006  
Olympia Snowe (ME) 2006; 2007 2007
George Voinovich (OH) 2006  

*Lead Republican Sponsor
CIR 2007 Vote:
  Senate Immigration Reform Bill (S.1639)

CIR 2006 Vote:  Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S.2611)
DREAM 2007 Vote: Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act of 2007 (S.2205)
DREAM 2003 Vote: Judiciary Committee hearing on the Development, Relief and Education Act (S.1545)

The moment of truth for Republican senators is fast approaching. Latino voters and others Americans will be watching to see if Republican senators do the right thing and help pass the DREAM Act. There is a shortage of bipartisan lawmaking these days, and the issue of immigration reform is one of the most obvious casualties of this heightened partisanship. By passing the DREAM Act, senators in both parties have a chance to show that they can do better than that.

Passing DREAM won’t obviate the need for comprehensive immigration reform. But it will show voters that politicians can work together to pass common sense immigration legislation, provide a brighter future for young people who have excelled in school and just want a chance to become citizens of the country they call home, and serve as an important stepping stone to broader reform.

For a collection of resources about the DREAM Act, visit: www.americasvoiceonline.org/dream