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Catholic Bishop John C. Wester pushing immigration reform

SALT LAKE CITY — With the DREAM Act headed for a vote in the U.S. Senate today, Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City is engaging in an 11th-hour, renewed push for passage of the federal legislation offering amnesty and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors.

Wester lobbied Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both R-Utah, by writing each senator a personalized letter urging him to vote in favor of the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors Act, which already passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 8.

"These are bright, talented young people," Wester writes in both letters.

"With the help of the DREAM Act, (they) could one day achieve their God-given potential and fully contribute their talents to our great state and nation. … The United States is the only home they have ever known and is the country to which they want to give their talents and energy."

Hatch declined comment Friday on Wester's request, but his office reiterated the senator's intention to vote against the DREAM Act as currently constituted. Bennett's office did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.

During a phone interview Friday, Wester explained why he believes it makes sense to pass a narrow portion of the broader immigration debate such as the DREAM Act now as opposed to waiting for palatable comprehensive immigration reform to come along at some future date.

"This is something that's accessible now," Wester said. "It's within reach, and it's something that I think both sides of the aisle agree is a good bill.

"I know that they're coming up with reasons why they no longer like it in some cases, but we're trying to remind them that at heart this has been the same basic bill that we've always had in the DREAM Act. It's a win-win for the country and a win for the immigrant and, frankly, it's a win for all of us."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed a cloture motion Thursday night for the DREAM Act, meaning a vote will be held Saturday to determine whether the bill can be brought to the Senate floor for a binding vote. Sixty votes are needed to pass cloture and carry the bill to a determinative vote, but as of Friday night it remained unclear whether Reid can secure those 60 votes. Republicans are threatening to filibuster the DREAM Act during this lame-duck session while reserving the right to possibly revisit the issue next year after newly elected members join Congress.