In a recent Op-Ed, “DREAMers are pushing their luck,” conservative columnist Ruben Navarrette criticizes DREAM Act youth. “I know just what a lot of those so-called DREAMers deserve to get for Christmas,” he writes, “a scolding.” Navarrette goes on to give them one, calling them “spoiled brats” who are “drunk on entitlement.”
It is beyond strange that Navarrette would take aim at the most powerless and vulnerable of all the players in the immigration debate. Not only does Navarrette object to the DREAMers’ civic engagement, he warns of a backlash against their “public tantrums.” Sadly, the only “public tantrum” on display is Navarrette’s – and it’s not pretty.
Navarrette complains that the DREAMers “insist that they’re entitled to better treatment than run-of-the-mill immigrants.” Actually, the DREAMers are entitled to better treatment. Unlike most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., they did not choose to enter the country illegally; they were brought as children by their parents. For this reason, fairness and compassion dictate that these young people be treated differently.
The DREAMers’ activism offends Navarrette. “They don caps and gowns and disrupt committee hearings and occupy the offices of members of Congress,” he writes. “They dare the police to arrest them, and then act surprised when it happens.” Yet peaceful civil disobedience is one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy. It took courage for the DREAMers to out themselves as undocumented, risking deportation in pursuit of their cause. This past summer, the growing protests and increased visibility of the DREAMers led to the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants temporary relief from deportation to qualified young people. That the DREAMers were able to bring about such an important policy shift is as remarkable as it is commendable. And consider that last year, for the first time in history, an undocumented immigrant, Benita Velez, addressed the Democratic National Convention.
Navarrette also objects to the DREAMers seeking U.S. citizenship. Holding this view, he must be feeling a bit lonely. The Pew Center reports that 91 percent of Hispanics support a path to citizenship for undocumented young people. Polling consistently shows that a majority of Americans feel the same way. Would Navarrette prefer that undocumented youth remain a permanent underclass, living in the shadows among us?
Navarette then makes the claim that the DREAMers are provoking a backlash. “While they (DREAMers) probably don’t realize it,” he writes, “their public tantrums are turning people against them and hurting the chances for a broader immigration reform package.” As proof, he cites one source – one! – who happens to be his friend and business partner. This one source shares Navarrette’s opinion that the DREAMers are making too many demands. But just because Navarrette has one like-minded friend doesn’t mean there is any movement against the DREAMers and immigration reform.
In fact, the opposite is true. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, leading conservative voices from TV host Sean Hannity to Speaker of the House John Boehner are now leaning towards supporting a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.
Navarrette’s irritation at the DREAMers’ “tantrums” is ironic considering he has had some choice tantrums of his own. This is a man who describes a “nose-to-nose shouting match” with Cesar Chavez in his book (page 227). He has publicly feuded with Latina icon Dolores Huerta. More recently, one immigrant advocacy group called his DREAMers column “a petty screed.”
It is unfortunate to see Navarrette denigrate the accomplishments of DREAM Act youth. Their activism should be celebrated, not criticized. While they exemplify democracy in action, Navarrette reveals himself to be an embittered, unreasonable grouch.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.