It was the first time in the 10-year legislative history of the DREAM Act that the House has passed the bill. The vote was 216-198.
But Republicans are expected to block a vote on the bill in the Senate on Thursday, ending hopes by immigrants' rights groups and their Democratic allies to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act in the final days of the 111th Congress.
Under Senate rules, Democratic leaders need 60 votes to stop an expected GOP filibuster of the bill. With little or no GOP support, Democrats are expected to fall short.
Supporters say the bill helps ambitious young immigrants who were brought here illegally through no fault of their own and want to help protect the nation as members of the U.S. military or get an education and contribute to American society.
"Think of these young people and how they identify with America — they have no other identity in many cases," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said a few minutes before the vote. "They want to use their degrees and their skills to help build something better for the next generation. That's what our founders had in mind. We owe it to our founders and we owe it to these young people and we owe it to the future to cast our votes for a bill that makes America more American."
Opponents say the bill would reward lawbreaking and encourage more parents to immigrate illegally to the U.S. with their children. Critics said it also would hurt U.S. citizens at a time when the unemployment rate remains at nearly 10% nationwide.