THE REPUBLICAN Party, champion of self-deportation for illegal immigrants, has made a special point of antagonizing so-called Dreamers — children brought into the country by their undocumented parents. A reversal of that stance would be welcome — even if it’s impelled by self-serving motives.
In 2010, Republicans blocked the Dream Act, which would have allowed undocumented high school graduates to gain legal status over 10 years if they finish college or serve in the military. In June,House Republicans passed a measure that raised the specter of deporting every unauthorized youngster in the United States by reversing the reprieve they were granted by President Obama’s executive order last year.
Now, having postured and threatened their way into the nightmares of a generation of Hispanic youths, to say nothing of their parents, some in the party are reconsidering. Gripped by the dawning realization that their long-established policy is electoral folly, a few House Republicans say they are prepared to talk about legalization or citizenship for Dreamers — just not (yet, at least) for their parents, who make up the bulk of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
Time will tell whether the hints of a shift on the Dream Act are an opening that might eventually lead to broader reform of the nation’s broken immigration system — one that includes a path to citizenship or legality for the 11 million. The smarter money says that the party is simply maneuvering to escape blame for the Republican leadership’s refusal to allow a vote in the House on the sweeping immigration bill passed by the Senate in June.
Either way, it remains the case that the Dream Act would materially improve the lives of perhaps a million or more young immigrants who might be eligible for citizenship under its criteria. It is sensible policy,and it should become law.
The fear among those who have been fighting for broader immigration reform is that enacting a stand-alone Dream Act would let Republicans off the hook and deal a lethal blow to the more important legislation that would enable millions of other illegal immigrants to normalize their lives in this country.
More likely, the issue would continue to fester, and few Hispanic voters would be fooled into thinking that Republicans had undergone a real change of heart. There’s a good argument to be made that passing the Dream Act might actually whet the nation’s appetite for broader reform and intensify the pressure for it in Congress.
The blunt fact is that the Senate has passed a comprehensive reform to the immigration system. And the House, under Republican leadership, has blocked that measure from even getting a vote — which it would probably win thanks to overwhelming Democratic support.
Republicans won’t save themselves by half-measures from ignominy among Hispanic voters. And Democrats shouldn’t play political games with the lives of undocumented youngsters. Pass the Dream Act now, if that’s possible, and continue with the work of comprehensive reform.