The vote by the Senate on Saturday to block a bill to grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant students was a painful setback to an emerging movement of immigrants and also appeared to leave the immigration policy of the Obama administration, which has supported the bill and the movement, in disarray.
The bill, known as the Dream Act, gained 55 votes in favor with 41 against, a tally short of the 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for debate. Five Democrats broke ranks to vote against the bill, while only three Republicans voted for it. The defeat in the Senate came after the House of Representatives passed the bill last week.
The result, although not unexpected, was still a rebuff to President Obama by newly empowered Republicans in Congress on an issue he has called one of his priorities. Supporters believed that the bill — tailored to benefit only immigrants who were brought here illegally when they were children and hoped to attend college or enlist in the military — was the easiest piece to pass out of a larger overhaul of immigration laws that Mr. Obama supports.
His administration has pursued a two-sided policy, coupling tough enforcement — producing a record number of about 390,000 deportations this year — with an effort to pass the overhaul, which would open a path to legal status for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
Now, with less hope for any legalization measures once Republicans take over the House in January, the administration is left with just the stick.