Ryan Grim contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Tuesday that he is moving on a major piece of immigration legislation in the coming days, bringing the DREAM Act one step closer to becoming a reality. His comments followed a meeting with the Democratic caucus, in which several senators vocally urged their colleagues to make the legislation a priority.
In the caucus meeting, Reid discussed DREAM Act, and according to a Democratic source, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was "very very vocal" in telling the other lawmakers that they need to make the vote a priority.
Cantwell "spoke up first from the crowd and said this is something that's really important for the caucus to do," said the source, who pointed out that her comments were notable and welcomed because while she strongly supports the DREAM Act, she hasn't been one of the most outspoken leaders on the issue.
"I've been in the Senate since 2001, and I just remember Republicans being passionate about it and sponsoring the bill. One of the most passionate speeches I heard was Orrin Hatch in the Judiciary Committee," said Cantwell in an interview with The Huffington Post Thursday afternoon. "And the fact that we've been working on it for so long and Republicans were so supportive of it and then somehow took a right turn or something and now won't pass the bill -- to me, it's important to get it done."
"Maria always is passionate," Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) told HuffPost on Tuesday. "She's always great."
Multiple sources also confirmed to HuffPost that Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Cali.) also spoke up, saying they would not be in the room today if not for the support of Latino voters. Both senators are strong supporters and co-sponsors of the DREAM Act.
Indeed, advocacy organizations have noted that Latino voters turned out in strong numbers for Democrats in November's elections and seemed to tip the scales in close races out West, such as the California, Colorado and Nevada Senate races.
Cantwell, who is up for reelection in 2012, also predicted that Republicans could take a hit at the polls if they continue to oppose immigration reform.
"I think Western states are states where populations are looking at this issue," she said. "I know there are lots of educational institutions in the state of Washington that are paying attention to this, and yes -- people want to know if you have a student who has reached top honors at their high school and all of a sudden now get accepted to Yale or Harvard and can't get in because they don't have a Social Security number or the status to do so."
According to a senior Democratic Senate aide, Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) are the three Democratic senators who have not yet stated a position on the DREAM Act and could be potential "yes" votes. There was some chatter amongst pro-DREAM Act supporters in recent days that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) could also be on board, but his office confirmed to HuffPost that he is voting "no."
On the Republican side, Sen. George LeMieux (Fla.) is considered a "big maybe," and Democrats anticipate that Sens. Robert Bennett (Utah) and Richard Lugar (Ind.) will support the legislation.
LeMieux, however, told Politico on Tuesday that he isn't going to support the DREAM Act until the border is secure and the Bush-era tax cuts are extended.
Pro-DREAM Act advocates have been aggressively trying to ensure congressional support for for the legislation in the final days, with a group of progressive organizations unveiling a six-figure ad campaign in English and Spanish, targeting senators whose votes are crucial for passage.