WASHINGTON -- As the House and Senate prepare to vote on the DREAM Act Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Democrats are still trying to round up enough votes to pass the bill.
"It's an uphill struggle in both the House and the Senate, but it's worth the fight," Durbin said at a press conference.
If the DREAM Act fails, the bill to provide a path to legal status for some undocumented young people would likely be dead until next session -- if not longer, given the heavy immigration enforcement leanings of the incoming House GOP. Immigration policy will be led by incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who will be head of the House immigration subcommittee. Both are harsh critics of the DREAM Act, calling it "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
"Next year, with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, it becomes more difficult," Durbin said.
Not that getting the DREAM Act past the current GOP will be easy. All 42 Senate Republicans signed a pledge to filibuster legislation not related to taxes until Congress resolves tax issues. Despite an agreement President Barack Obama reached with Congressional Republicans on Monday, Senate GOP members said Tuesday they still plan to stand by the pledge.
DREAM Act supporters, including White House cabinet members, are trying to win additional votes for the bill in the final hours before the votes. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke in support of the bill at the Capitol Wednesday, and other cabinet members are making phone calls to undecided senators.
The White House Office of Management and the Budget issued a statement Wednesday encouraging senators to vote for the bill, calling it an "important step" toward the administration's broader goal of comprehensive immigration reform.
The main targets are Senate Democrats who remain uncertain on the bill, including Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Senate Republicans who voted for the bill in 2007.
Most of the undecided senators are remaining mum on how they plan to vote. "I think we've made some progress, but we don't know until we hold the vote," Durbin said.
In the House, Gutierrez said Democrats are making strides toward winning support for the bill. He said 80 percent of the Democratic caucus supports the bill.
"We picked up votes last night at dinner, and we picked up votes this morning in the House gym," he said. "We go where the votes are and talk to people."
If the DREAM Act fails, Durbin said he would work with Republicans in the next session to try to come to a compromise on immigration reform. Few Republicans have been willing to discuss reform, arguing borders must be secured before the Senate can address other immigration issues, such as visa reform or paths to legalization for some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
A $600 million border security bill passed by the Senate in August did not quiet these complaints from Republicans, despite appeals from Democrats that it should allow them to move onto other immigration reform.
"If the bill fails, we will have to find away to engage the Republicans in this conversation," Durbin said. "I know they're interested in border security and I would like to make the case that I am too and we've proven it. And with the right resources, perhaps we can bring them to the table to talk about other issues."