|Harry Reid may have been all smiles after retaining his Senate seat, however he faces an uphill battle to push through any significant legislation, particularly an immigration reform bill [Gallo/Getty]
Democratic lawmakers will attempt to summon up their waning power by using the so-called "lame duck" session of Congress to pass what will likely be the closest they will get to comprehensive immigration reform.
Nancy Pelosi the house speaker and Harry Reid the Democratic senate leader will shepherd remaining members of their dwindling flock to pass the DREAM Act, which provides a six- year conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US by their parents before they were 16 years of age.
In order to qualify, an undocumented immigrant has either to obtain a college degree or serve two years in the military.
Despite heavy support from immigration, civil rights, business and labour groups, some conservative Republican legislators - including some who were original co-sponsors of the legislation - are continuing to brand the measure as an "amnesty".
Supporters of the bill say this is merely an attempt to scare the public.
The measure's critics contend that defeating the act must be, in the words of Iowa Republican congressman Steve King, "a top priority before it provides an uncontrollable citizenship path to thousands of illegal immigrants."
The right-wing publication Newsmax writes, "On the surface, the act would provide a road to citizenship for students who are illegal immigrants." But it quotes the conservative congressman King as saying "it would allow students to sponsor their extended families on that path."
"We calculated that a single individual could bring in 357 people on a family reunification plan before we ran out of room on our spreadsheet," King claimed.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be able to push the act through the lame-duck session of Congress, King told Newsmax. But Republicans should be able to use the filibuster to kill it in the Senate, he says.
A "lame duck" session of Congress in the US occurs whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor's term begins. The old Congress returned to work Nov. 15 for a week, then recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Legislators returned to work on Monday. Representatives and senators elected or reelected in the mid-term elections just concluded will not take office until January 2011.
Meanwhile, efforts to shore up support for the legislation continue to strengthen.
The measure now has the support of Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security and a wide range of organisations and individuals concerned with the political, economic and social implications of immigration reform.
"I supported the DREAM Act when I was governor. I support it now…It seems to me that that DREAM Act is a good piece of legislation and a good idea," Napolitano told Dick Durbin a Democratic senator from Illinois in congressional testimony.
Travis Packer, a policy research assistant with the American Immigration Council, says the "tired effort to pit immigrants against native born is not only destructive, but has no basis in fact."
"It also ignores the economic benefits that come from legalising a group of talented, hardworking individuals who want nothing more than to contribute to America and repay the country for the opportunities they've been given," he said in a statement.
Alejandro J. Beutel, government liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council said that, "Passing the DREAM Act is in our nation's best moral and economic interests. Doing so will ensure America remains the world's shining beacon of individual liberty and prosperity."
And, according to the Economist, "The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters. It says that we will not hobble the prospects of young people raised and schooled in America just because we were so perverse to demand that their parents wait in a line before a door that never opens."
The Act "signals that we were once a nation of immigrants, and even if we have become too fearful and small to properly honour that noble legacy, America in some small way remains a land of opportunity," the magazine wrote.
In a related development, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that students who attend at least three years of high school in California and graduate are eligible for in-state tuition rates at California public colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status.
The court found that federal law did not bar California from offering tuition equality to students. California is one of 10 states with similar laws on the books.
DREAM Act supporters say the legislation would clarify what the California Supreme Court recognised: that federal law does not bar states from making the policy choice to afford students equal access to education.
This article first appeared on the Inter Press Service News Agency.