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Undocumented students devastated after U.S. Senate blocks DREAM Act

A controversial bill that would have granted legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented students was blocked once again in the Senate Saturday.

The 55-41 vote in of the so-called DREAM Act was five votes shy of moving onto the Senate floor, effectively killing its chances of passing this year.

Immigration activists and undocumented students, some of whom drove overnight from Miami to Washington, reacted with frustration on hearing the final vote. Dozens gathered at Yambo Restaurant in Little Havana to watch the procedural vote on C-SPAN.

"I don't get it. This is disappointing, but we have to keep fighting," said 22-year-old Adrián Escarate, who was 3 when his family immigrated illegally to the U.S. from Chile. "I don't know Chile. The only country I know is this one."

It was the second time this year that the Senate voted on the bill, which was first brought to Congress a decade ago.

Florida's senators voted with the their respective parties. Democrat Bill Nelson voted in favor of the bill while his Republican counterpart George LeMieux voted against.

The bill would create a path to citizenship for undocumented students who immigrated illegally to the United States before they were 16 and who have lived here for at least five years. It would apply only to university students and those who commit to serving at least two years in the military.

The House of Representatives approved the measure earlier this month, 216 to 198.

Senate leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a press conference after the vote that the Republican Party "will pay for this'' in 2012 by losing votes in the Hispanic community.

Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who opposed the bill, said in a statement that "such serious legislation should be brought up in a time frame that allows for consideration, deliberation and consensus through full debate and amendments''.

Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told El Nuevo Herald that chances are slim for any immigration reform to pass next year, when Republicans take control of the House.

"I don't want to raise any false hopes. It's not say there is no hope but I have to be realistic," he said.

In recent months, the issue has mobilized many young activists in South Florida, including a group of undocumented students who walked to Washington in May to raise support and publicity.

During a "vote pary'' this morning in Little Havana, various students and immigrant rights advocates spoke about their hopes for the bill's passage. Among them was Raul Gil, 21, of Peru.

Though he immigrated illegally with his family to the United States when he was 13, he didn't know he was undocumented until three years later.

"I remember wanting to get a car and my license, and I couldn't," Gil said. "I asked my mom and she explained that we're undocumented."

This story was originally published December 18, 2010 2:58 PM.

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