Word is leaking from the Senate that Republicans, facing stiff and well-deserved opposition from most Hispanic voters, are crafting a bill similar to but not nearly as good as the DREAM Act, a bill to legalize the immigration status of young people who grew up in the United States but are currently undocumented immigrants.
Reports indicate that a proposal backed by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who opposes the DREAM Act, would allow certain young people to eventually earn legal status by attending certain four-year colleges or serving in the U.S. military. The proposal would bar these young people raised in the United States from ever becoming citizens. Similar restrictive or watered down proposals are said to be coming from Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona (both of whom have supported the DREAM Act before now opposing it). Let's call them collectively the 'Stolen Dreams' Act.
This is a very dangerous game these Republican senators are playing with the lives of young people. With zero chance of such a proposal passing the Republican-controlled House, they are hoping to play politics with the immigration issue long enough to soften the Republican Party's image with Latino and immigrant voters, which, to be blunt, stinks. It is the equivalent of a batter protecting the plate in baseball, sending off foul tips to extend his time at the plate, but without actually swinging or making a serious attempt to get on base.
And it is a foul tip indeed. Unlike his parents and practically everyone else who has emigrated from Cuba, Senator Rubio feels the current cohort of immigrants in America should never be considered fully American. Even for infants brought to America by their parents and now fully Americanized, they can never be fully considered citizens and taxpayers if Senator Rubio has his way. It represents a sea change in American history; taking citizenship off of the table for a group of people for whom America is their only home.
Why? Because Senator Rubio and other Republicans fear legal immigration. Despite all the rhetoric out of one side of their mouths that they "only oppose the illegal kind" of immigration, the main argument they speak out of the other side of their mouth against citizenship is that citizens can sponsor close family members for visas to come legally.
Fox TV personality Lou Dobbs, during his segment on The O'Reilly Factor on March 23, spelled it out:
The big negative is -- and this is one of the things Senator Rubio has said -- it introduces chain migration. That is, you can bring family members into the line, that is, a path to legalization... Right now they could start bringing in their immediate families and then, depending on which version of the DREAM Act you look at, they could bring in their parents, you could bring in extended family members.
The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee agrees that citizenship and legal immigration are the perils of the DREAM Act. In an op-ed posted at Fox News.com, the gatekeeper to House Republicans when it comes to immigration wrote:
While DREAM Act supporters claim that it would only benefit children, they skip over the fact that it actually rewards the very illegal immigrant parents who knowingly violated our laws. Once their children become U.S. citizens, they can petition for their illegal immigrant parents and adult siblings to be legalized, who will then bring in others in an endless chain.
This is why Senator Rubio has said, "I think that one of the debates that we need to begin to have is a difference between citizenship and legalization." He told Fox News personality Juan Williams that he fears the DREAM Act would bring three or four million new people to the U.S.
The facts blow this argument out of the water. Most immigrants who become citizens sponsor one other close family member for legal immigration over their lifetimes (the average is 1.2 per immigrant), but many of the young people who could be eligible for the DREAM Act already live in families that are A) already here; and B) where some in the family are citizens or here legally and some are not. Even under rosy projections, any person legalized under the version of the DREAM Act that passed the House in 2010, for example, would not be able to get a family member a visa for at least a decade or two. Factor in the waiting times for most visas and immigration policies that bar almost all of those already living here illegally from getting legal, even if their child or sibling (or even a spouse) somehow becomes a citizen, and you see this is a bright red herring. It is a fictitious argument, but one embraced by Senator Rubio, Rep. Smith, and Lou Dobbs.
Senator Rubio is so convinced that his party is opposed to fully integrating immigrants into the fabric of America, he will not even bother to ask them to support it. He jumps right to the no-citizenship option. He knows he cannot gather support for fully including these young people in our country given the posture of most candidates and office holders. And raising the question could further expose and embarrass Republicans when the vote in November hinges on how (and how many) eligible Latinos vote.
Young people with no criminal record, who have grown up in the United States, are without papers through no fault of their own -- even the ones who embrace and pay for higher education or serve our country in the military -- being put on a lengthy journey to citizenship is toxic to the leaders of the Republican Party. The presidential candidates and all the key committee chairmen favor an approach closer to Arizona's racial profiling law. They want their approach to immigration to spark a mass exodus of more than 11 million people, even though most have lived here for more than a decade. It is ludicrous, but sadly true.
It is a tragic commentary on the GOP and how far it has leapt over the anti-immigration cliff. Sen. Rubio knows that Ronald Reagan would be drummed out of his own GOP because of his support for legal immigration and citizenship for long-time residents. Senators John McCain, Jon Kyl, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Orrin Hatch, among others, who once led GOP efforts to craft bipartisan solutions to make citizens and taxpayers out of long-time residents, are all cowering from the sign waving bullies and talk-show hosts in their own party. And let's be clear, anti-immigration policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric adopted by some leaders in Senator Rubio's party aren't just liabilities with Latino voters, they are liabilities will all voters.
You are either for maintaining America's tradition of incorporating generations of immigrant families into America through a controlled and orderly process or you are not. You are either for getting immigration under control by making legality and visas an option for immigrants or you are not. You are either for making sure we have fair laws evenly enforced so that members of our society share the same rights and responsibilities as citizens and taxpayers or you are not. And you either think the type of people who are immigrants today can and will become full partners in our shared destiny -- just as our forefathers and mothers did when people doubted them -- or you do not. There has always been a small number of Americans opposed to incorporating immigrants fully into society and they have always been wrong.
Follow Rep. Luis Gutierrez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LuisGutierrez