New version of DREAM Act targets moderate Republicans

Liz Goodwin

A new version of the DREAM Act and a big ad buy in five key states are turning up the pressure on moderate Republicans pegged as potential swing votes by immigration activists.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois has filed a compromise version of the DREAM Act that seeks to palliate Republican complaints that the initial draft of the bill was "too broad" and would grant a path of legalization to too many people. Durbin's revised bill offers a conditional path to legalization for youths brought into the country illegally as children and who want to attend college or join the military.

The new bill lowers the age of eligibility for the program from 34 to 29, withholds permanent legal status for a period of 10 years, bans states from offering in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, and puts a cap on how many family members can later put in for citizenship under the sponsorship of qualifying immigrants. Durbin's legislation also prevents people who have committed certain misdemeanor crimes from qualifying, something that Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions had highlighted in an opposition paper.

Frank Sharry, an immigration activist who leads America's Voice, tells The Lookout the new bill is "designed to make it harder for Republicans to say no." He says he's disappointed the age limit has dropped to 29, since some immigrants have been advocating for the DREAM Act for 10 years and will now be aged out of the program. "But honestly the heart of the DREAM act is preserved" amid the Durbin revisions, he said.

Meanwhile, Sharry's organization and several labor unions and other pro-reform groups unveiled a six-figure print and radio ad buy aimed at senators in Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Florida, and Nevada. Texas GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office has not returned repeated requests for comment on whether the new version of the bill has satisfied the senator's concerns. All 42 Republicans have vowed to block all legislation until the Bush tax cuts have been extended and a spending authorization bill has passed.

(A protester holds a candlelight vigil for the DREAM Act: AP)