WASHINGTON — The top Senate Democrat said Tuesday he'd move to force a test vote this week on a measure to give tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he'd move to schedule action on the so-called Dream Act, which would give more than 100,000 young immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16 a chance to become legal residents if they attend college or join the military.
It's unclear whether Reid can muster the 60 votes necessary to move to an up-or-down vote on the measure. It has some degree of bipartisan support, but is opposed by most Republicans and some Democrats who regard it as little more than an amnesty grant for illegal immigrants.
A coalition of labor and immigrant advocacy groups announced Tuesday they're launching a radio and print advertising campaign to pressure Republican senators to support the measure. Targets include Florida Sen. George LeMieux, Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, Nevada Sen. John Ensign and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
"This is the chance for Republicans to show they can rise above all the hate-mongering and all the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the campaign season," said Mitch Ackerman of the Service Employees International Union, which counts many undocumented workers among its members.
Still, the debate over the measure is fraught with politics. Reid vowed earlier this month — in the thick of his tough re-election fight in heavily Hispanic Nevada — to hold a vote on the bill when Congress returned to finish its end-of-the-year business.
He won with the help of Hispanic voters, who also played a major role in sparing other Democrats — including Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California — from being toppled by a GOP wave.
Frank Sharry of America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group, said the election showed that lawmakers who "lean into" the immigration issue reap benefits at the polls.
"There was a firewall in the West where Latino voters turned out in big numbers to reward people who championed them," Sharry said. "We're going to try to make it painful" for those who oppose efforts to give illegal immigrants a path to legal status, he added.
The battle for enactment of the Dream Act comes amid frustration by Hispanic activists and their advocates that President Barack Obama hasn't pressed harder for a broad immigration overhaul to give several million illegal immigrants a path to legalization.
Addressing the plight of a much smaller population of young immigrants is seen by these groups as a downpayment on such a measure, after its prospects were destroyed earlier this month when Republicans won the House and larger numbers in the Senate.