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Utah's senators plan to vote next week against an immigration proposal they have long supported, charging Democrats with attempting to load a must-pass defense bill with popular liberal ideas to curry favor in an election year.

Three years ago, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett voted to add the Dream Act to the defense authorization bill, which would have allowed the children of some immigrants here illegally to become conditional citizens if they went to college or joined the military.

That effort failed, but Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, plan to try the very same thing Tuesday. This time Hatch and Bennett plan to stick with their Republican colleagues and vote no.

"The American people want the government to secure our borders, create jobs and reduce the deficit. Instead, Senate leadership is insisting on ignoring the will of the people and holding our troops hostage by cynically pushing a defense bill chock-full of controversial measures to score cheap political points with its liberal base," said Hatch, a former co-sponsor of the Dream Act.

The senator reiterated his support for the bill at a town hall meeting in Layton earlier this year, according to a report by KSL, saying that many of these children don't even know they are not citizens until they graduate from high school.

"If they've lived good lives, if they've done good things, why would we penalize them and not let them at least go to school?" Hatch asked.

The Dream Act is a late addition to what is already shaping up to be a messy partisan debate.

Democrats are also attempting to repeal the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay soldiers, which Hatch and many other Republicans oppose.

Republicans have also set their sights on a provision that would allow servicewomen to get an abortion at a military hospital if they pay for it themselves. All three issues carry added political weight just weeks away from Election Day.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee has already threatened to block the bill.

Reid defended the move as the best he could do on immigration this year given strong Republican opposition.

Before Congress takes up a bill such as the Dream Act, Hatch said it must "regain the faith of the American people" by securing the borders and reducing unemployment.

"Those are the pressing problems Washington needs to tackle right now," he said.

Bennett said he would stand with Reid if the Senate voted on the Dream Act separately from the defense bill.

"I support the Dream Act as free-standing legislation, but putting it in a bill that has a number of objectionable aspects is not something I support," he said.

Bennett and Hatch are among a handful of Senate Republicans who have previously supported the Dream Act despite some conservatives criticizing the proposal as a form of amnesty.

The Dream Act would give legal status to those who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here for at least five years as long as they pass a background check, attend college for at least two years or serve in the military.

Earlier this month, a group gathered at the University of Utah, including 30 undocumented college students, to press Utah's senators to support the quick passage of the Dream Act.

That effort included student leaders and Voices for Utah Children led by Executive Director Karen Crompton, who said: "These young people are Americans in every way but their citizenship, and it helps no one to keep them undocumented."

Dream Act

The Dream Act (short for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) would create a way for the children of undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. To qualify each student must:

• have entered the U.S. before his or her 16th birthday.

• graduate from a U.S. high school.

• have been in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the enactment of the bill.

• show good moral character.

If a student meets this criteria, he or she would gain conditional permanent residency for six years, during which they would have to complete two years of college or join the military and serve honorably. They then could petition for citizenship.