WASHINGTON — In an appeal to Latino voters, three Senate candidates in the Southwest are calling on delegates to the Democratic National Convention to make support of a bill to help young illegal immigrants gain citizenship a part of the party platform.
Rep. Martin Heinrich, the Democratic nominee for a Senate seat from New Mexico, is leading the effort and said that formally supporting the immigration proposal would provide voters with a clear choice on an issue that many care deeply about.
"I think the time has come for the DREAM Act to be part of our identity as a party," Heinrich said in a telephone interview.
Democratic candidate Shelley Berkley in Nevada said she supports the campaign, and a spokesman for Richard Carmona in Arizona said he does as well.
The DREAM Act would give young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military a path to citizenship.
The Homeland Security Department, under a directive from President Barack Obama, has stopped deporting illegal immigrants who would have qualified for the DREAM Act, but that policy does not provide a path to citizenship. The administration said the change in policy will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants.
The Democratic-led House approved the DREAM Act – the acronym stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – in December 2010, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate. While the bill has not been approved by either the House or the Senate since, Obama has supported it as part of his immigration reform efforts.
Democratic officials believe that the growing Hispanic population in key battleground states such as New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada gives those who embrace the DREAM Act a competitive edge in this fall's elections. A Pew Hispanic Center survey conducted in late 2011 found that more than 9 in 10 Hispanics support the DREAM Act.
It's unclear whether the Democratic Party's platform committee will add support of the bill to the platform.
"The platform process is ongoing, but the president and Democrats support the DREAM Act and are committed to taking steps toward passing it." said Melanie Roussell, spokeswoman for the DNC.
The campaign of Heinrich's Republican opponent, Heather Wilson, didn't respond directly to the question of whether she would support or oppose the DREAM Act if elected. In the past, she has said that she would not support amnesty but that when it comes to children brought to the country illegally, "we owe it to them to find a long-term solution."
In Nevada, a spokesman for the campaign of Berkley's Republican opponent, Sen. Dean Heller, called the DREAM Act "a Band-Aid solution that will not solve the larger problem." Heller was among the Republican House members who voted against the bill in 2010.
Arizona Republicans have yet to choose their Senate nominee. The front-runner in the primary race, Rep. Jeff Flake, voted against the act in 2010 and says securing the border should take priority.
Associated Press writer Jeri Clausing in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.