It was always a long shot for supporters of an immigration measure known as the Dream Act to round up the 60 votes needed to advance the bill in the Senate. But it didn't help matters this week when the Bush administration, having supported a comprehensive immigration reform bill containing essentially the same provision, came out against the bill on the morning of the vote. This helped quash the hopes of tens of thousands of promising young people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in this country illegally. The failure of the Dream Act - it got just 52 votes - leaves them no realistic hope of achieving legal status.
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The Dream Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., would have addressed a small but especially deserving fraction of the estimated 12 million people in this country illegally. Those who entered the country before age 16, lived here for at least five years and graduated from high school with unblemished records could obtain conditional legal status for six years. During that period, they would have to spend at least two years in college or the military. Only then would they qualify to become legal permanent residents.
In its policy statement this week, the administration asserted that it was "sympathetic" to the plight of these young people but insisted that the measure "falls short" because it would create "a special path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants - including young people whose parents respected the nation's immigration laws." Of course, the administration-backed comprehensive immigration reform measure, which failed earlier this year, also provided for special, expedited treatment of young people in this category. The administration had no problem with the provision then, and its complaints now seem as cowardly as they are unpersuasive.