SAN DIEGO – Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois have introduced a new DREAM Act.
Oh boy. I really wish they hadn’t done that.
The lawmakers want to protect young undocumented immigrants who could lose their temporary legal status under Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) due to a court challenge from 10 states. It’s probably also true that neither of them trusts President Donald Trump when he says the White House has no interest in deporting these young people.
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This suspicion is justified. On immigration, the current commander in chief has shown himself to be as loose with the facts as his predecessor. Barack Obama swore up and down that he was deporting only criminals, even in the face of statistical evidence to the contrary. And, with equal chutzpah, Trump is still assuring supporters that there’s going to be a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border and that it will be paid for by Mexico, even though neither of these things seems likely to happen.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, has been a part of the immigration debate since August 2001. That’s when the original bill was introduced in the Senate by Durbin and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
I admit, the idea looks good on paper. Young people without documents who were brought to the United States as children, and raised as Americans, are given a path to earned legal status and possible U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military.
What’s wrong with that? Actually, a couple of things.
For one, we talk a lot these days about elitism, usually in the context of how the Democratic Party has lost the ability to talk to working-class white voters in the industrial Midwest.
But the original DREAM Act was the epitome of elitism before that was even a political talking point.
This was driven home to me about a decade ago when – as a Latino who supported the measure – I found myself in an argument with a Latina who opposed it. She worked at a vocational school, and she pointed out something I hadn’t noticed: The benefits of the DREAM Act were reserved for those who went to college – usually a four-year college – or joined the military. She had no problem with rewarding service in the armed forces, insisting that those who expect something from America should be willing to give something back. What bothered her was the insistence on going to college. What about those kids who go to vocational school, or go straight to work? They didn’t deserve legal status?
Someone in Washington was playing God again, deciding who stayed and who went according to a narrow definition of positive behavior.
Why stop at attending college? Why not demand that beneficiaries of the DREAM Act not accept any public assistance, or abstain from smoking, or never fall into debt, or not be unemployed for more than six months at any point in their lives?
The new bill from Graham and Durbin is a slight improvement because it covers those who “work lawfully for at least three years.” But it also has a new requirement that recipients speak English and know U.S. history.
Great idea. But shouldn’t we start by demanding those things from native-born U.S. citizens?
These moral judgments are all subjective, and awfully condescending. They’re all about what Graham and Durbin, and the other senators who will eventually support their bill, require to make them feel comfortable with overlooking the fact that these young people are in the country illegally.
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If Graham and Durbin want to make themselves useful in the immigration debate, they should stop treating immigrants like they’re some kind of social science experiment. Instead, they should draft a bill that would eventually legalize most of the 11 million people who are in the country illegally – whether or not they went to college or speak English.
It’s no wonder that so many DREAMers experience a version of “survivor’s guilt” because they were tossed a life preserver while their parents and siblings are left to drown.
All this talk about how the Trump administration is dividing families. You know what really divides families? The DREAM Act.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.