Florida Senator Marco Rubio recently floated the idea of a Dream Act that would give some kind of legal status to undocumented young college students but insisted that the way to do it would be to leave out a path to citizenship because it would "encourage chain migration."
"The current DREAM Act would allow for chain migration, which would not only legalize these kids but help relatives, that'll be another 4 million people, and that raises red flags," Rubio said in late march during an interview with Juan Williams on Fox News Latino.
In other words, Rubio opposes offering the youngsters, many of whom are already graduate and post graduate students, the kind of status that would allow them to eventually sponsor immediate family members, much like Rubio's parents in Cuba were sponsored by his auntie in Florida back in 1956, before Fidel Castro came to power.
If the concept of legal status without citizenship sounds familiar is because Newt Gingrich has also been talking about this during his campaign. In a few of his appearances to Latino audiences, like in his visit to the Cielito Lindo Restaurant in South El Monte in February and even before, in his strange foray to a Mexican restaurant in New Hampshire where there were more cameras than Latinos, Gingrich talked about this idea of allowing some of the undocumented population to stay here without a path to citizenship.
I asked him about that in his visit to South El Monte. Wouldn't that amount to a brand new concept of keeping certain groups of people as permanent foreigners? American immigration law has never included such a cathegory, unless you count the Chinese Exclusion Laws which for about 60 years between 1880 and 1943 turn all Chinese citizens and their descendants into non entities, not citizens even if they were born here. A shameful part of our immigration history which we so often idealize but mostly don't know anything about.
"There are people who have been here for 30 years with green cards, very long term residents," said Gingrich to the question. "People who have been here for over 25 years and have deep family times we are not gonna deport therefore we have to find some kind of middle ground, the country will not give them amnesty, so we would offer them residency without amnesty."
Rubio and Gingrich did not actually come up with this idea. The concept of keeping citizenship out of reach for legalized immigrants it's actually the brainchild of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) a research organization that is part of the same lobbying group that pushed the "attrition thru enforcement" concept and the legal push behind the local and state anti immigration laws such as SB1070, the Arizona Law, that will soon be argued in front of the Supreme Court. CIS, FAIR and the Immigration Reform Law Institute are all part of the same network of organizations in Washington that want to limit not illegal, but LEGAL immigration.
In March of last year, La Opinión published an interview with Mark Krikorian, CIS executive director, where he argued that Republicans could come up with a very limited Dream Act alternative that would give the youngsters a "permanent administrative visa", with all the rights of a legal resident without the ability to sponsor relatives. CIS had published a couple of papers by Stanley Renshon pushing that idea. CIS and FAIR have in mind a new immigration system where people can't sponsor certain relatives and where legal immigration would be reduced.
Likeminded congressman Phil Gingrey, from Georgia, has introduced a bill in Congress for several years now that has the blessing of this groups -but hasn't gotten anywhere- called "the Nuclear Family priority Act" , which will eliminate the ability of US Citizens to sponsor the immigration of adult brothers and adult children. In other words, Rubio's parents would not be able to immigrate today under the circumstances they did in the mid fifties. His great "American Dream" story would not had been possible.
Audrey Singer, immigration expert at the Brookins Institute says that legalization without citizenship is an idea that doesn't match with America's history and principles but that it makes even less sense in the case of "dreamers."
"We have always viewed legal immigrants as presumptive citizens," Singer said. "But to apply this to the children of immigrants...this children had no choice but to come to this country, they were living a life as a child and an adult made the decision. They are american, for the most part and we've already invested in their basic education. I don't think this makes any sense."
Also, Singer points out, family migration is not automatic and it usually takes a long time, given the limited quotas available, in some cases up to 20 years or more. But groups like FAIR and Numbers USA want us to believe that for every legalized and naturalized new citizen there's an automatic unlimited number of new immigrants that enter almost immediately. This is what they call "chain migration."
On the other hand, most political types know that the Dream Act is an increasingly popular idea. Polls show consistently that it has growing support among the American People -although the fact that it's not a priority doesn't give Congress any urgency to work on it-. It's also a good idea to figure out a way to integrate young college students and or college graduates - I have personally met many undocumented young people who have already graduated and even some who are pursuing PhD's- into an economy that will have a shortage of at least 3 million skilled workers by 2018, according to Georgetown University.
Nevertheless most republicans in Congress and prospective presidential nominee Mitt Romney are still opposed to the Dream Act because they argue it would "reward illegal immigration". There's also another concern to Republicans about the legalization of the undocumented -mostly latino- population. That with the image of the Republican Party being very attached to the Arizona Law and most anti immigration laws, the new citizens would tend to become Democrats.
But the Dream Act is supported by 90% of Latinos, even Republican Latinos. A good reason for Marco Rubio to find a way to make the Dream Act palatable to more people in his party.
Pilar Marrero is senior writer for Impremedia/La Opinion and author of "Killing the American Dream" published by Pallgrave-McMillan which comes out in early October.