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Trivia question for all you policy wonks: before the DREAM  Act passed Wednesday night, when was  the last time you read the headline, "House passes historic immigration bill?"

Answer: December 16,  2005.

But December 16,  2005, was a night that lives in political infamy among supporters of progressive  immigration reform. That was the night the Republican-controlled House passed a  notoriously anti-immigrant bill authored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

The Sensenbrenner  bill would have turned undocumented workers and anyone who helped them - including their priests and pastors-- into  felons.  It was also the day that the  Republican Party made a dangerous move: siding with its hard-core nativist wing  over moderate members and Latino voters. The Sensenbrenner bill sparked a  backlash that continues to fester. It became one of the reasons Republicans  lost control of Congress in 2006, lost  the White House in 2008, and  lost the chance to take back the Senate in 2010.

This week, however, after  years of organizing, citizenship drives and voter mobilization, the words, "House  passes historic immigration bill" finally took on a tone of courage and hope.  The DREAM Act passed the House on Wednesday by a 216 - 198 margin.  Eight brave Republicans joined with most  Democrats to stand up for high-achieving young people who are American in all  but paperwork.  The measure even  attracted support from a number of conservative Democrats, some of whom, like  Chet Edwards (D-TX) took to the House floor to speak on its behalf.

The House-passed  DREAM Act would turn a highly deserving and group of undocumented young people  who want to go to college or serve in the military into legal residents and  eventually citizens. Authored by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Lucille  Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), the DREAM Act allows young  people who were brought to the U.S. as children, grew up as Americans, and did  everything asked of them a chance to become citizens and give back to the only  country they call home.  It is estimated  that some 800,000 young people -- all of whom who are here and have lived here  for at least five years - will qualify.

Speaker of the House  Nancy Pelosi even took to the House floor to make a passionate speech for DREAM  :


If you listened to  the full House debate, however, it was clear that  there are still a gang of  nativists who want to take up the mantle of  Sensenbrenner.  Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA) are  chief  among them. Leaving aside their egregious distortions of a narrow,   bipartisan, and defecit-reducing bill, they have a warped sense of  political  reality. These Congressmen may as well start every speech by  saying, "We want  to ensure that no Latino voter ever votes Republican  again." Their vitriolic  anti-immigrant rhetoric pits white people  against a "menacing" and "lawless"  minority, a strategy guaranteed to  further alienate the fastest growing voting  demographic.

In the  coming weeks,  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - who has long  championed the bill - plans to  take up the House-passed version of this  legislation. We've got a chance to  make history again in the Senate.  To read the papers today, however, you'd  think the DREAM Act died in  the Senate on Thursday.

In fact, this past  Thursday the DREAM  Act was given new life by a deft procedural move by Majority  Leader  Harry Reid.  Following that  historic House vote Wednesday night--which  caught many pundits in Washington by  surprise--Reid made the  strategically smart decision to table the Senate bill in  order to hold a  vote on the House-passed DREAM Act in the coming weeks.

Why?  For one, Senate  Republicans had claimed they would vote in lock step  against the bill over  "process" objections. The Senate can now deal  with the all-consuming tax cuts  issue before it takes up the  House-passed legislation.  Secondly, DREAM backers have more time to   round up swing votes.  Also, by taking up  the House bill, Reid is  following the shortest road to turn DREAM into law,  instead of starting  over with a new piece of legislation that hadn't cleared  either  chamber. Repeat: Reid's move to table the Senate version of DREAM makes   the chances of the DREAM Act becoming law much  better, not worse.

Mainstream  journalists,  who likely already had their stories written, are doing a  terrible job  explaining this to the American people. Not so in the Latino blogosphere or Spanish speaking media, where the movement on DREAM has been getting  wall-to-wall coverage in print and broadcast.

Those  of us who work this issue day in  and day out--and the young leaders  who have courageously led the fight to pass  this legislation--know that  we're closer than ever to success. We're heartened  by the latest Gallup poll that reaffirms what research has  told us time and again:  a  solid majority of Americans back the DREAM Act. We're also heartened  that  Senator Lugar (R-IN), a long-time champion of the bill, has again  become a firm yes vote on DREAM today.

Passing  the DREAM  Act in the House was not a fluke; it was a sign that the  growing movement for immigration  reform is getting stronger every day  and that immigration reform isn't nearly as  scary as Washington likes  to think. In fact, it's inevitable.

Harry Reid  understands this better than anyone, and he just  positioned DREAM to give it  the best chance possible to cross the  finish line this month. Now, we just need  a handful of Republican  Senators to step up to the plate and turn this  historic, bipartisan  House victory into law.

Cross-Posted at Huffington Post.

Originally posted to Frank Sharry on Fri Dec 10, 2010 at 12:03 PM PST.

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