SAN FRANCISCO -- Tuesday's defeat of a defense appropriations bill in the U.S. Senate also dashed the hopes of many Bay Area students who were relying on an amendment in the bill that would have advanced the DREAM Act.

Dozens of those students had gathered in San Francisco to rally for the bill's passage. The DREAM Act would have offered a path to citizenship for thousands of college-bound or military-bound students whose families brought them to the United States illegally when they were young.

"We still have a chance. We're not done," said a tearful Lisa Chen of the Asian Law Caucus, speaking to a crowd of undocumented students and their supporters downtown after she learned of the defeat. "This is just one -- we just started. "... What happened is a loss, but not the last straw for us."

Top Senate Democrats tried to place two hot-button measures on the same annual defense funding bill. One was the DREAM Act, which would give conditional green cards to undocumented children and young adults who graduate from high school and pursue college or military service. The other was a repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans gays from serving in the armed forces.

Senate Republicans, joined by two Arkansas Democrats, blocked the bill, with many arguing that the added measures, whether they supported them or not, had no place in a defense-spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had championed the bills, also ended up voting against the defense bill for procedural reasons.


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More than 2.1 million children and adults under 35 years old could have been eligible if the DREAM Act passed, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute, and a little more than a quarter of them live in California.

"There would be a lot of potential, a lot of talent that would be able to be utilized," said UC Berkeley undergraduate Julian Rivera, 20, a political science student whose family brought him to California from Mexico when he was 14.

Undocumented students, if they can afford college, are unable to work legally once they graduate. They also cannot enlist in the military.

Richmond resident Blanca Hernandez, who graduated from UC Davis but cannot work legally, was up early in the morning Tuesday calling Republican and Democratic senators who might be on the fence. One of them, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, introduced the DREAM Act in 2001 but voted against the defense bill Tuesday largely because of the attempt to include a repeal of the military's gay ban, not because of the DREAM Act, she said.

Hernandez has seen the DREAM Act fail before -- last time, in 2007. But she said she believes it still has a chance after the November elections, when lawmakers are less focused on party politics and votes and more willing to consider it as a stand-alone measure.