An appeals court in New Orleans retained a lower court’s hold on President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration Tuesday, a victory for the cause of opposing Obama’s policies even when you don’t have a better idea — or, in this case, any ideas at all.
Conservative hostility to undocumented immigrants is understandable for a host of reasons, not least that such immigrants broke the law in crossing the border. But hostility to the subset of immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. as children, is simply spite dressed as principle.
Lorella Praeli, 26, has a green card now, but she fits the basic profile of a Dreamer. She arrived in the U.S. from Peru at age 10 as an undocumented immigrant, mastered English, graduated with honors from college, worked as an advocate for Dreamers and was just hired as Hillary Clinton’s Latino Outreach Director.
The Clinton connection aside, conservatives should love Praeli’s American journey. First, she didn’t break any immigration laws — unless we are holding 10-year-olds accountable for obeying their parents. Second, she not only worked hard and overcame challenges to succeed, she did so within the system.
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This is no small thing. Europe is grappling with a sometimes catastrophic challenge posed by alienated minority groups that are sufficiently large to be self-sustaining, separatist and volatile.
Dreamers, by contrast, are assimilationist, seeking to join American institutions such as the military, universities, corporations and even mainstream political campaigns. Having grown up and come of age in the U.S., Dreamers generally want to be American, not just live here — a key to social cohesion. Even their collective name signals an emotional embrace of national mythology (not to mention a healthy regard for the powers of branding).
You would think that law-abiding, mainstream cultural assimilators would enjoy a robust stamp of approval from conservatives. But House Republicans, champions of the Republican base, have voted to overturn Obama’s executive actions seeking to protect Dreamers from deportation — and have made no effort to extend a hand to Dreamers themselves. Earlier this month, House Republicans even voted down a nonbinding provision encouraging the Pentagon to study whether Dreamers should be allowed to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to take even a symbolic exit ramp from their political ghetto.
Carlos Curbelo, a freshman Republican representative from Florida, called that vote “a mistake.” His analysis may be faulty when applied to individual House members in very white, very conservative districts. But for the party nationally it is almost certainly correct.
The oft-stated formula for many conservatives is that no legalization of undocumented immigrants can take place until Americans first “secure the border.” This is a non sequitur, in terms of both logic and policy. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are already here; no amount of future border securing will alter their presence. But even if you accept conservative claims that their objections to legalization or citizenship for the undocumented are rooted in respect for law and proper immigration protocol, why should Dreamers be penalized for sins they didn’t commit? And why should the nation at large forgo the economic benefits of Dreamers realizing their potential?
Republicans are holding Dreamers hostage. If they could trade their hostages for an end to the demographic pressures that their party faces, they would surely do so. But freeing the hostages will only compound the problem. So instead, they hold their captives for another day, with no strategic end game, waiting for the world, or their political luck, to change.
Republican presidential candidates responded to news of Clinton’s new Dreamer with an awkward silence. She intends to press her advantage. “Not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one,” Clinton said in Nevada in early May. “When they talk about ‘legal status,' that is code for second-class status.”
More than a million immigrants qualify as Dreamers. There is no moral or practical reason to deny them a path to citizenship. (If they “steal” American jobs, they will simply steal them at lower wages without citizenship.) Sealing the border — a geographic fantasy— will not make them dematerialize. Yet Congressional Republicans continue to hold Dreamers back for reasons both unprincipled and impolitic. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and others tiptoeing through the immigration minefield of the Republican presidential primary no doubt understand the Dreamers’ predicament. They too are hostages.
Frank Wilkinson writes on politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg View.
© 2015, Bloomberg News