WASHINGTON -- The Dream Act, a bill that would allow some undocumented young people to gain legal status, narrowly passed the House Wednesday evening, 216-198.
The bill's passage by the lower chamber was applauded by President Barack Obama, who called it "an important step" toward comprehensive immigration reform. But the fight isn't over -- the Senate's version of the bill is set to come up for a vote tomorrow and faces a steep climb to get past a cloture vote.
Strong opposition to the bill during the House debate, particularly among Republicans, set the stage for tomorrow's vote in the Senate, where it is expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and proceed to a final vote.
In the House, Republicans objected to the bill on a variety of grounds, including the charge that it would lead to increases in fraud and illegal immigration. That line of attack was spearheaded by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who will have a heavy hand in immigration policy next session as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
"American workers should not have to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs," Smith said during the debate. "Once these kids become citizens, they can bring in their brothers and sisters and parents, who can bring in others in an endless chain."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said the bill would mostly benefit minorities and argued they would therefore be given preference over U.S.-born citizens if they gained legal status.
"This bill will give foreigners who are here illegally preferences above American citizens," Rohrabacher said. "This is no Dream Act. It is an affirmative-action amnesty nightmare."
Republicans in the Senate have taken a similar tack on the Dream Act, criticizing the Democratic leadership for bringing up the bill and calling it "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
In an attempt to push back against these claims, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who introduced the Dream Act in the House, said the bill protects against fraud and criminal activity and would not allow beneficiaries to petition for legal status for a large number of relatives or receive tuition or scholarship benefits.
"This is less about the kids who will benefit from the bill and more about the nation that will benefit from having these kids," Berman said.
The Senate delayed a cloture vote on the bill until Thursday morning. Prospects for the bill there remain bleak, with likely opposition from all 42 Senate Republicans citing the need to resolve tax issues first.
If the cloture vote fails, the Senate could still take up the House's version of the bill -- but time is running short.