Democrats will try to add legislation creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant students who serve in the military or go to college to a broader defense bill in the Senate as early as next week, leaders said Tuesday.
The $725-billion defense authorization bill already faces Republican opposition for including a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays and lesbians in the military.
Tacking the immigration measure onto the usually popular defense bill is a nod to the importance of Latino voters in the midterm election.
"We're going to address two issues that are long overdue," Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, said Tuesday in announcing the legislative lineup.
Republicans indicated their intent to fight both issues.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell expects the defense bill to include "a number of extraneous measures in it that have nothing to do with defense, making it needlessly controversial."
Immigrant rights groups welcomed a possible vote on the so-called DREAM Act, which would allow minors who entered this country illegally a path to legal status and eventually citizenship if they go to college or join the military.
"This is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats alike to lead the nation forward and fix our broken immigration system," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
The repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy has been sought by gay rights activists. Republicans would probably offer an amendment to strike that provision from the bill.
Singer Lady Gaga interjected a dose of pop culture into the debate Tuesday by urging her fans in a Twitter message to contact Reid to schedule a vote to repeal the military policy on gay personnel.
Reid tweeted back that the vote was coming next week.
Lady Gaga tweeted a thank-you.