This lame-duck session of Congress might be the Dream Act and immigration reform's best chance of passing, but no one is sure what to expect.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., started the process to bring two versions of the bill immediately to the Senate floor.
But Senate Republicans on Wednesday threatened "to block virtually all legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government," according to The Associated Press.
"I think it's very likely that the Dream Act will come up before the end of the year, but it's difficult to predict what will happen when it does come up," said Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
WHAT IS THE DREAM ACT?
A bill that would provide conditional legal status to persons who:
* Were brought to the U.S. before age 16, have lived here continuously for at least five years and are younger than age 35 when the act is passed;
* Have good moral character;
* Have earned at least a U.S. high school diploma or a general education development certificate;
* Can adjust status from conditional to permanent legal residence by earning a higher education degree, completing at least two years in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher, or by serving in the military at least two years.
Source: Senate Bill 3962
Both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they support a vote on the Dream Act before the new Congress takes office in January.
The Dream Act is a bill that would provide legal status to young illegal immigrants who graduate from a U.S. high school and pursue college or the military. It failed to reach a vote in September after Senate Republicans blocked the Defense Authorization Act, which had the Dream Act as an amendment.
Some lawmakers, such as U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., say they will vote no because they believe the bill rewards illegal behavior.
Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who will leave Congress at the end of this term, said a lame-duck session is not the proper time to address the Dream Act.
"[It] is a highly controversial bill that ignores the rule of law by setting in motion an amnesty plan for people living in this country illegally," he wrote in an e-mail. "The people have just spoken. While the issue of innocent children of illegal immigrants is very important, the 112th Congress should be the one to debate this bill and other immigration reform measures."
And U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said the Dream Act doesn't have a chance of passing before the end of the year.
Any immigration-related bill "has the potential to launch a much bigger debate on all aspects of the immigration issue and would take weeks to debate," Sheridan Watson, the senator's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.
"He does not believe there is enough time or enough votes for Senate passage of immigration reform in the little time remaining this year," she added.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., executive committee member of the Immigration Reform Caucus, said the issue will be "high on our list of priorities" in the 112th Congress.
"As we tackle our immigration problems, we must look for more effective policies to secure our borders. I stand firmly committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to bolster our border security, expand the E-Verify program, end the 'anchor baby' conundrum, and fundamentally reform legal immigration policies to keep our citizens safe," he wrote in an e-mail.
Still, some in the region hope there will be action on immigration reform.
"It's still possible that it may come up [although] the likelihood of it is still being debated," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
Jeff Brown, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said he doesn't understand why immigration reform and especially the Dream Act haven't moved forward.
"It's not inviting more people to immigrate, it's about taking care of some of the problems and issues we already have in particular taking care of the young people who are here at no fault of their own," he said.
Starting next year, he said, Republicans have the responsibility "to jointly govern and it is just as incumbent on them as it is on anybody else to get it right."
"I'm just afraid there's going to be too much political grandstanding about the issue and not the attention paid to real talk and real solutions. This has been dragging on for at least my generation and still no resolution to it," he added.
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