WASHINGTON, December 22, 2010 (AFP) – President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to push immigration reform through a divided Congress, calling lawmakers’ failure to pass a White House-backed bill his “biggest disappointment”yet.
The so-called DREAM Act would have offered a path to citizenship to young undocumented immigrants who attend college or join the military, but the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance through the Senate on Saturday.
But Obama insisted he was “persistent” and “determined” to secure passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act in the new Congress, which will see Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives and his fellow Democrats face shrinking Senate numbers in January.
“My biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote…I want to do right by those kids,’ Obama told a year-end press conference.
He called it “heartbreaking” that some of these children, brought illegally into the country by their parents through no fault of their own, live under a “shadow of fear.”
“I’m very disappointed Congress wasn’t able to pass the DREAM Act so we can stop punishing kids for the actions of their parents and allow them to serve in the military or earn an education and contribute their talents to the country where they grew up,” the president said.
After repeated efforts failed to secure a comprehensive overhaul of the tattered immigration system in the United States – where some 11 million undocumented people reside – the bipartisan bill had sought to better integrate children brought illegally to the country by their parents.
But Republicans criticized it as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
Obama insisted, however, that his administration has “done more” to secure the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada than ever before. He welcomed Republican ideas on border security.
The measure would have offered legal residency to undocumented immigrants under 30 who arrived in the United States before they were 16, have lived on US soil for five years and have not committed serious crimes.
Eligible immigrants would have also had to have graduated from high school and either attended college or served in the U.S. armed forces.
Obama has said the legislation was key to U.S. economic competitiveness and military readiness, and that the act would have slashed the ballooning deficit by 2.2 billion dollars over 10 years.