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House Passes DREAM Act; Senate Vote Expected

The DREAM Act was approved by the U.S. of Representatives this evening and is expected to be taken up by the U.S. Senate tomorrow. Shortly after 9 p.m., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pounded her gavel and announced the 216-198 vote. Eight Republicans voted "yea".

[UPDATE (Dec. 9): The Senate has delayed voting on its version of the DREAM Act in a political maneuver by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meant to keep the effort alive. Some observers expect Reid will attempt to have the Senate vote on the House version of the bill.]

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, would provide a path to legalization for undocumented high school graduates who meet certain criteria and complete two years of college or military service. To be eligible, the graduates would have to have arrived in the United States before age 16 and be no older than 30. They also would have to have lived in this country for five continuous years and have no criminal record.

The House vote followed a debate over the merits of the act, with Democrats arguing that the measure enables the United States to benefit from the talents of youths who came to this country through no fault of their own, and Republicans arguing that the act would create more illegal immigration and enable people who have broken U.S. laws to take jobs away from American citizens.

Republicans also said they were unhappy that Democrats didn't permit amendments to the measure and brought it to the floor for a vote in a lame-duck session of Congress, at the "11th hour." The shift to Republican control of the chamber in January, plus a stronger Republican presence in the Senate, would likely further limit the bill's chances of success.

During the floor debate, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said the act was "good for our country and economy." He added it would enable undocumented youths to become contributors to our society. Several lawmakers, such as Rep. Pelosi and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., named undocumented youths they are acquainted with who are high achievers, arguing that they deserve the opportunity to live legally in this country.

But Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, questioned how lawmakers could consider granting "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants when the unemployment rate in the United States is more than 9 percent. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., called the DREAM Act the "affirmative-action, amnesty nightmare," contending that undocumented immigrants who stand to benefit from the act, because many of them are minorities, will receive some preferences in U.S. society over "non-minority" American citizens. "It doesn't get much worse than that," he said.

Republicans also argued that the act was ripe for fraud, questioning whether it would be possible to verify the ages and experiences of undocumented youths, since they lack official papers.

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