In 2001, Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- better known as the DREAM Act -- into the Senate. The legislation would’ve made it possible for the children of undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency if they stayed out of trouble and went to school or joined the military. The idea was that we shouldn’t make kids pay for the migration decisions of their parents, and we shouldn’t deny our economy skilled workers we’ve already paid to educate or our military eager recruits who want to defend the country they’ve grown up in.
Hatch’s legislation quickly proved popular with his Republican colleagues. His initial cosponsors included Sens. Sam Brownback, Larry Craig, Mike DeWine, Chuck Grassley, and Richard Lugar. When Hatch reintroduced the bill in 2003, Sens. Lincoln Chaffee, Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, Mike Crapo, Peter Fitzgerald, Chuck Hagel, John McCain and Ben Nighthorse Campbell joined the list of co-sponsors. The legislation cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with ease: The final tally was 16-3, with seven of the 10 Republicans voting in favor.
More than a decade later, the DREAM Act still hasn’t been signed into law. Some of that is simply because of the vagaries of the Senate and the political calendar. After the legislation passed the Judiciary Committee, it was delayed for various procedural reasons, and then it got crowded out by President George W. Bush’s effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But some of it is because the Republican Party has executed an almost total flip-flop on the idea. In December 2010, during the post-election lame-duck session, a tighter, a more stringent DREAM Act passed the House and came to the floor in the Senate. Fifty-two Democrats, and three Republicans, voted for it. (Two of those Republicans -- Sens. Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski -- had lost to tea party primary challengers earlier in 2010. The third, Sen. Richard Lugar, lost to a tea party challenge this year.) The 55 “ayes,” however, weren’t sufficient to overcome a Republican-led filibuster of the bill.