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Defeat of immigration measure reveals failed White House strategy, advocates say

Undocumented students from around the country demand the passage of the Dream Act outside the White House, despite the threat of arrests and deportation.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 5:48 PM

Whenever Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and other immigrant-rights advocates asked President Obama how a Democratic administration could preside over the greatest number of deportations in any two-year period in the nation's history, Obama's answer was always the same.

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Deporting almost 800,000 illegal immigrants might antagonize some Democrats and Latino voters, Obama's skeptical supporters said the president told them, but stepped-up enforcement was the only way to buy credibility with Republicans and generate bipartisan support for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.

On Saturday, that strategy was in ruins after Senate Democrats could muster only 55 votes in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a measure that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Under Senate rules, Democrats needed 60 votes to overcome Republican opposition to the bill. The House of Representatives had passed the measure this month, 216 to 198.

The irony of the DREAM Act's failure is that it had strong bipartisan support at the start of the administration, and advocates thought it could generate momentum for more policy changes.

But as the country's mood shifted on illegal immigration, support among Republicans and some Democratic senators evaporated, with many decrying it as backdoor amnesty for lawbreakers. Even a former co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), voted against it.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who led Republican opposition to the measure, said: "This is an amnesty bill because it provides every possible benefit, including citizenship, to those who are in the country illegally."

Virtually no one thinks immigration overhaul is possible in the next two years, given the views of many members of the incoming Republican majority in the House.

Now many immigrant-rights supporters are second-guessing Obama's efforts to woo Republicans by ramping up deportations.

"It is a strategy which has borne no fruits whatsoever," Gutierrez said. "This administration has unilaterally led the march on enforcement, yet the other side has not given one modicum of compromise."

"If you really want to bring Republicans to the table," he added, "so long as they are getting everything they want, every piece of enforcement, why, why would they come to the table?"

At a recent press briefing, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano denied that the administration had increased deportations to bring Republicans to the bargaining table.

"I don't view it as a quid pro quo," Napolitano said. "We enforce the law because we took an oath to enforce the law."


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