updated 10/24/2007 3:27:02 PM ET 2007-10-24T19:27:02

Legislation to give children of illegal immigrants a path toward legality failed a crucial test vote in the Senate Wednesday, likely putting a final stamp on major immigration measures for the year.

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Supporters needed to get 60 votes to advance the DREAM Act, which would have allowed illegal immigrants who plan to attend college or join the military, and who came to the United States with their families before they turned 16, to move toward legality.

The final vote was 52-44.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was a popular portion of the comprehensive immigration plan that would have legalized as many as 12 million unlawful immigrants while fortifying the border.

That bill failed in the Senate back in June, but the DREAM Act supporters wanted to see if their portion would pass on its own to help immigrant children who came to this country illegally.

"Children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"What crime did these children commit?" added Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "They committed the crime of obeying their parents and following their parents to this country. Do you think there was a vote in the household about their future? I don't think so."

Critic: Bill was the 'wrong direction'
But Republican opponents of the bill called it the first step to amnesty, which they contended the Senate rejected back in June. "I do not believe we should reward illegal behavior," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.

"This would be the wrong direction," added Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "This would be to signal that once again we're focused on rewarding illegality rather than taking the steps necessary to create a lawful system."

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., saw a different problem. "I have grave reservations about seeing a part of comprehensive immigration reform going forward, because it weakens our position to get a comprehensive bill," he said.

The White House opposes the legislation, but did not threaten to veto it.

While sympathetic to children brought into the country illegally by their parents, the bill falls short by "creating a special path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants — including young people whose parents respected the nation's immigration laws," the White House said in a statement.

Passionate debate
The immigration issue brings out passion from those on both sides of the issue. On Tuesday, GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado called for an immigration raid on Durbin's news conference in the Capitol.

Tancredo, who opposes the DREAM Act, said he suspected there might be illegal immigrants at the Illinois senator's news conference in favor of the bill.

No one from immigration showed up, Durbin said later. There were no illegal immigrants there anyway, he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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