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Michael B. Keegan

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American Apartheid? The Republican "Dream" Scheme

Posted: 03/29/2012 12:45 pm

The Senate GOP seems to be banking on the assumption that Latino voters are stupid, don't read the fine print -- or are not paying any attention at all.

Panicking from a series of polls that show their years of bashing Latinos haven't been endearing them to Latino voters, prominent Republicans are scrambling for a solution. They seem to have found one, at least for now, in a new attempt by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to rewrite the DREAM Act, the widely popular bill that the Senate GOP derailed in late 2010.

Rubio has come up with a "non-citizen-for-life" concept as he rejiggers the DREAM Act to make it pretty much dream-free. It's a tough trick: How do you create the illusion of a law that looks like it's giving something to Latinos, but which the Tea Party knows means nothing?

The authentic DREAM Act offers a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the country without documentation, who graduate from high school and go on to college or the military, allowing them to create a stable life and give back to the country that they call home. Rubio's dream-free proposal gives these young people a nebulous legalized status, so that rather than become American citizens, they will have permanent second-class status -- allowed to live, work and pay taxes in the only country they have ever known, but never permitted the ability to vote or exercise any of the rights of full citizenship.

The real cruelty of this Republican proposal is that it seeks to take advantage of the desperation of some DREAM Act-eligible youth to avoid deportation. The Republican proposal offers them that in the short term, but at the price of second-class status for the rest of their lives. They deserve better. Of course, it doesn't have to be this way: Not long ago, before the Tea Party drove the GOP's agenda, the authentic DREAM Act enjoyed the support of many Republicans in the Senate. The GOP has paid the price for abandoning the authentic DREAM Act and promoting numerous anti-immigrant policies. Senate Republicans are living in a fantasy land if they believe they can win back Latino voters by inventing a new second-class status for these young people.

They should take a lesson from history. I went to South Africa over 30 years ago, where the government created many different levels of citizenship as a means to keep an unjust system going in a modern world. In addition to "Whites," different categories of "Blacks," "Coloureds," and "Asians" for South Asians, South Africa had to create the category of "Honorary Whites" to accommodate the Japanese and Chinese. We should learn from the lessons of apartheid and the dangers of creating different levels of citizenship for different people.

That system, thankfully, has fallen, and it has been rightfully judged an historical disgrace, but if today's Republican Party has considered history at all, they're not learning the right lessons. Instead of pushing towards more equality for all people, they've perfected a method of legalizing discrimination by inventing new classes of citizenship for those on whom they don't want to bestow full rights, creating a unique and disturbing American apartheid.

Add these new immigrant ersatz citizens to a growing list. Republicans want gay people to have a form of citizenship that doesn't include marriage rights -- and if they had their way gay Americans wouldn't be allowed to serve their country in in the military either. Muslims can be citizens, but must fight legal and PR battles just to exercise their First Amendment right to the freedom of religion. People who have served their time in jail for felonies are citizens -- but in many states, they aren't allowed to participate in our democracy by voting. And Republican-controlled state legislatures pass laws that make it harder for young people, the elderly, and low-income people to vote - again, all citizens, legislated out of one of their fundamental constitutional rights.

For a party that claims to be interested in limiting government, today's GOP is surprisingly eager to create new levels of bureaucracy for the sole purpose of depriving some Americans of their rights. Whatever happened to simple? How about an America with equal rights and equal justice for all and a fair path to citizenship for hard-working people who play by the rules?

With the new dream-free DREAM Act, Republicans are trying to create one of their patented new levels of citizenship while pulling a fast one on Latinos and others who care about the fate of immigrants. The problem is, American voters are smarter than they give us credit for -- and we know when they're trying to fool us.

 

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