(WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 20: Rosario Lopez, from North Carolina, an undocumented ‘Dream University’ student has been involved with the movement to try and get the Dream Act passed by August 4th, the day Congress goes out of session. Diana was arrested with a dozen other undocumented students refusing to leave their sit-in in the Hart Senate Office building. Photographed on July 20 in Washington, DC. (Mark Abramson/The Washington Post via Getty Images))

Opinion: Republican’s phony version of the Dream Act

 Diana was arrested with a dozen other undocumented students refusing to leave their sit-in in the Hart Senate Office building on July 20,2010 in Washington, DC. 

Note: This is a response to an opinion piece posted earlier on NBCLatino by Professor Stephen Nuño on the Republican version of the Dream Act

Stephen Nuño’s essay suggesting that Latinos and immigration advocates should accept Senator Rubio’s phony version of the Dream Act is ill-informed and dangerous.  This clearly partisan piece is a significant and curious departure from his usually thoughtful approach to these issues.  In fact, Nuño himself has previously suggested that the GOP needed to endorse the Dream Act…the real one.

In the piece, Nuño considers a recent trial balloon, floated by Senator Rubio, that we might consider adjusting the status of “Dreamers” if we could agree that this status change would not allow them to become citizens.  Nuño thinks the deal is worth considering.

There are several important inaccuracies in Nuño’s piece.  For starters, Nuño incorrectly identifies 287g as an Obama administration directive—it is not, it predates his administration—and it is not the same as the “Secure Communities” program. Both are problematic but it is the latter that has been the source of so many deportations.  Yes, the administration has deported about a million people, a directive for which the President (and his advisers) are rightly criticized.  But Nuño forgets to remind us why this enforcement was stepped up.

The administration, responding to GOP claims that comprehensive immigration reform could only follow on a “secure border,” stepped up enforcement to make the political ground more fertile for comprehensive reform—to make GOP support easier to attract.  The administration is guilty—yet again—of underestimating the intractability of its opponents, of giving the other side what it wants (deportations) and receiving nothing (even acknowledgment of the effort) in return.  But its enforcement decisions were instrumental and do not alone represent insincerity in their beliefs about immigration.

Second, his evaluation of the two parties presents a false equivalency regarding their motives.  Yes, commitment among Democrats is, at best, uneven and the party clearly benefits electorally from portraying themselves as protectors even as immigration reform never quite makes it.  But to paint Democratic commitment with a broad brush as pure posturing is unfair to the many Democratic officeholders who have worked tirelessly to pass immigration reform for the better part of the decade.

By contrast, the “reasonable” Republicans on the issue, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have both retreated from the issue in the face of challenges from the right of their party, and a fair assessment of the House GOP Conference is that there may not be even a single vote for any type of meaningful immigration reform.

Most importantly, he oddly suggests that this “deal” is better than continued raids and deportations, but the Rubio proposal would actually do nothing to stop either deportations or raids.  Since the proposal, like the original Dream Act, applies only to youth enrolled in college or the military, it is not a broad status adjustment for undocumented immigrants nationally.

If it were, it would perhaps be a more tempting option to those imperiled families despite being a painful half measure, but Nuño surely knows that the private prison lobby and GOP forces who profit so handsomely from the current enforcement regime would fight this measure too since, just like genuine comprehensive immigration reform, it would put them out of business.  So the “deal” Nuño sarcastically suggests Latinos and their leaders take if “the Democratic Party [will] let them” is not actually the choice on the table and not the one the GOP and its constituencies are willing to make.

This phony version of “Dream” is particularly adverse to the interest of Latino immigrants and their families.  The original Dream Act was an effort to incentivize and reward those young people who represent the best of our community, who have the natural gifts and work ethic to seek college education or volunteer for the military.  Also remember that those affected have committed no crime—their immigration status is not the consequence of their own decisions.  The phony version takes these innocent young people—our very best and brightest future community leaders—and consigns them to permanent exclusion from the American community.  Rather than reward achievement, we would identify the achievers and mark them as uniquely unfit to become Americans.

The status of these achievers will be increasingly absurd over the course of their lives.  As non-citizens, they’ll be unable to shape their children’s schools or hold office in their communities.  Their rights in the workplace would be circumscribed.  They would remain external to our politics 10, 20, even 30 years after their status as undocumented had changed—always in, but never of, the United States.

I might suggest that they would be permanent second-class citizens except that they would never be citizens at all—they would be “guests,” and not the kind of guests who get generous treatment and a nice meal!  And why?  On this, Nuño and I agree.  The long-term motive of the GOP in offering this outcome is to prevent these young people from attempting to later adjust the status of their family members, and to prevent them all from voting…ever!  (Expect later some GOPer to offer a proviso that their children would not be citizens either—ending birthright citizenship if they can.)  Whether they admit this publicly or not, the GOP recognizes that it has so poisoned its brand among Latinos that it has made it increasingly difficult, politically, to envision a scenario where they would ever allow most (or even many) of those currently undocumented in the US to enter the citizenry and electorate.

Of course, the other short-term motive of the GOP here is to offer Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney a rhetorical way out of the box they find themselves in with respect to rabidly anti-Latino ultra-conservatives on the one hand and the face of diminishing electoral prospects among current Latino voters on the other.

The effect of such a law on the Latino citizenry is equally pernicious.  This approach would be the creation of a permanent alien Latino population and would further serve to marginalize Latino citizens of the United States.  Recent anti-immigrant laws like SB1070 effectively allow authorities to target “suspected” undocumented immigrants and inevitably result in open season on persons who appear to be Latino for repeated police stops, interrogations and detentions.  Likewise, this indentured servitude bill would create a class of “resident non-Americans,” nearly all of whom are Hispanic.  We would have a permanent class of well-educated, English-dominant Latinos who would resemble in every way their friends and neighbors who are citizens. The inevitable effect is, once again, the undermining of perceived legitimacy of all Latino citizens and their place in our society.

Foreign guest worker programs—essentially what this proposal is—are inherently anti-American in that they violate the core norms and values that comprise our national ethos.  Individuals who contribute effectively to this society should be able to earn their place in its fabric.  That a nation of immigrants would now say that, no matter the effort and merit, this group of immigrants never gets to be fully American, is a betrayal of our history and principles.

Gary Segura, is a Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Principal, at Latino Decisions.

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