SAN DIEGO – As Jeb Bush’s campaign sputters and donors get nervous, analysts are asking whether someone who is not good at retail politics can be elected president. Meanwhile, commentators wonder how someone who can’t hold his own against Marco Rubio and Donald Trump would hold the line against Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State.
A better question is how can someone stand toe-to-toe with Republican challengers if he can’t stand up to a petulant “Dreamer” who – with neither the facts nor the law on her side – had the chutzpah to grill a presidential candidate despite the fact that, as an illegal immigrant, she shouldn’t even be in this country.
Is that impolite to say?
Tough. For 25 years, I’ve written and spoken in favor of giving the undocumented a path to earned legal status. I’ve been called “amnesty boy,” a “radical Mexican” and worse by right-wingers and nativists. So, while I often annoy liberals and lefties, it’s not easy for them to brand me as “anti-immigrant” for speaking uncomfortable truths.
Like these: Several years ago, the immigration-reform movement changed the rules of the game. It told the media to no longer use the phrase “illegal immigrant” to describe the undocumented. And it also went from arguing that we should make an accommodation for those who had broken the law to trying to paper over the fact that any laws were broken in the first place. Instead of giving sinners a shot at redemption, the goal became to paint every undocumented immigrant as a saint.
It’s no wonder that we see such a sense of entitlement from so many Dreamers – the hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents and thus technically broke no law even though their parents did.
That’s the Dreamers’ conundrum. They’re smug about the fact that they’ve been given special accommodations like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with its temporary work permits and protection against deportation, because they came here involuntarily. But their parents are not so lucky – because they’re not so innocent.
It’s confusing. Dreamers have hinged their entire argument for being allowed to stay in this country to the fact that they did nothing wrong. But then they pivot and try to confer the same right to their parents who did do something wrong.
Dreamers concede the value of citizenship by demanding it for themselves and their parents, but then turn around and pursue a list of privileges – driver’s licenses, college admission, scholarships, law degrees – without needing to be citizens. Is citizenship essential to living a productive life, or isn’t it?
Don’t expect to get answers from Dulce Valencia, an undocumented student at the College of Southern Nevada where Bush recently participated in a forum. As Bush was greeting the crowd after the event, Valencia asked the candidate – who supports legal status for 11 million undocumented immigrants and a path to citizenship for Dreamers – why he won’t go further and support a path to citizenship for her parents.
For Dreamers, all politics is personal. And a tad narcissistic. It’s always: What are you going to do for me, my parents, my family, my community?
Bush didn’t react well to being challenged. He wouldn’t look Valencia in the eye, and tried to brush her off by insisting that he had already answered that question.
Valencia came back with a verbal jab, pointing out to Bush that his wife – who was born in Mexico – had the chance to become a citizen. Why couldn’t her parents have the same chance?
Of course, there is a big difference: Columba Bush came to the United States legally, and Valencia’s parents didn’t. The candidate made that point, but then quickly turned away.
That’s it? How pathetic. Bush should have given this young lady a scolding. It could have gone something like this:
“Look, even though I’ve been hammered for it within my party, I’ve said that Dreamers should get special treatment. But you can’t transfer that benefit to your parents just because you feel guilty for being spared. You would get more out of this debate, and frankly get further in life, if you stopped whining about what you think this country owes you and thought long and hard about what you owe the country. That’s how we do things here. Welcome to America.”
That’s the person I’d vote for. Where in the world is he?
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.