WASHINGTON — Six years ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham crafted a rare type of bill that blocked the U.S. government from punishing an Aiken high school girl for a crime her mother had committed long ago - smuggling her across the Mexico border as an infant.
Seven months ago, Griselda Lopez Negrete graduated from the University of South Carolina in Aiken with an honors degree in business administration - and as a permanent legal resident of the United States on a path toward citizenship.
Graham, though, has taken a different path.
Graham is now opposing a measure that would grant the same protections to children of illegal immigrants that he provided Negrete in 2004.
The senator sees no contradiction between his past support for immigration reforms - branded "amnesty" by fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint - and his current stance against a measure to create a conditional route to citizenship for as many as 500,000 children of illegal immigrants.
The House passed the DREAM Act - for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors - late Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to vote on it next week.
"I'm not saying the DREAM Act is bad," Graham told McClatchy on Thursday. "I'm saying that the DREAM Act done by itself is a formula for disaster because you're inviting people to come here illegally."
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, however, said the bill applies only to those already in the country at the time of passage.
Graham, who voted against a similar Senate measure in 2007, said it must be part of broader legislation that secures the U.S.-Mexico border, overhauls federal guest worker programs and enacts other reforms.
The House-passed bill makes immigrants younger than 30 eligible for legal residency if they entered the United States before age 16, lived here for at least five years without committing a serious crime and graduated from high school.
The undocumented youths would also have to attend college or serve in the military for two years or more under the House measure.
"I am proud that in this toxic political climate, the House did the right thing and passed good common-sense bipartisan legislation that gives our Latino brothers and sisters a chance to contribute to our country's future," Clyburn said.
House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt also voted for the measure. Three of South Carolina's four Republican representatives cast ballots against it.
"Passage of the DREAM Act is unfair to American citizens and an insult to immigrants who have followed the proper protocols to become U.S. citizens," said Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminister Republican who will leave Congress next month after an unsuccessful gubernatorial run.
Rep. Bob Inglis of Travelers Rest, who lost to Upstate Republican challenger Trey Gowdy in the June primary, was among eight GOP representatives who voted for the bill.
Graham accused Democrats who pushed the legislation of playing "a silly, stupid game" aimed at alienating Hispanics from Republicans.
Predicting that the DREAM Act will "go down in flames" in the Senate with at least eight Democrats opposing it, Graham said the party's congressional leaders are pushing it to fulfill a promise by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during the Nevadan's tough re-election campaign.
Hispanics, who make up a significant portion of Nevada voters, helped Reid narrowly defeat Republican challenger Sharron Angle in the Nov. 2 election.
Graham said he aided Negrete because she had a compelling personal story, including the tragedy of her mother's death when she was 8. She was later adopted by her uncle.
"I wanted to help her because she was in a very unique situation," Graham said. "I can't help everybody, but I could help her."
Graham's aides noted that after he introduced his "private bill" on her behalf, which froze deportation procedures, Negrete still had to apply for legal residency from her hometown in Mexico.
Graham said the 2007 bipartisan reform legislation he backed with President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy provided legal status for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, but he said the bill also stiffened enforcement and tightened border controls.
"I believe in comprehensive reform," Graham said.
"When you look at our last bill, it had [provisions of] the DREAM Act in it, but we did border security, we did a temporary worker program, we did it all."