Senate Republicans on Saturday doomed an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.
Sponsors of the Dream Act fell five votes short of the 60 they needed to break through largely GOP opposition and win its enactment before Republicans take over the House and narrow Democrats' majority in the Senate next month.
President Barack Obama called the vote "incredibly disappointing."
"A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is best for the country," Obama said. "There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation."
Dozens of immigrants wearing graduation mortarboards watched from the Senate's visitors gallery, disappointment on their faces, as the 55-41 vote was announced.
"This is a dark day in America," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. "The Senate has ... thrown under the bus the lives and hard work of thousands and thousands of students who love this country like their own home, and, in fact, they have no other home."