Don’t be fooled. The KIDS Act is a cynical political ploy. Besides being a highly partisan measure, it is so inadequate that even the DREAMers don’t like it. It is nothing more than a public relations stunt to cover up GOP inaction on immigration reform.
Like the ACHIEVE Act and the STARS Act before it, the KIDS Act is a proposal that sounds good yet doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny. At best, it seems to be the DREAM Act Lite. It would likely not allow the estimated 1.4 million DREAMers to become full citizens. Instead it would let them legalize their status, so that they might live and work without fear of deportation. That’s not enough, given that citizenship long been the goal for these young people. And the KIDS Act would do nothing for the rest of our undocumented population.
Speaker of the House John Boehner told the Associated Press that the KIDS Act is a matter of “decency and compassion.” But Boehner, along with Cantor and Goodlatte, voted against the DREAM Act in 2010. Last month all but six House Republicans voted to defund President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which allows undocumented youth to temporarily legalize their status. So House Republicans deserve suspicion for their new-found concern for the DREAMers. The New York Daily News skeptically dubbed their sudden about-face “the miracle of Capital Hill.”
Many immigrant youth are against the KIDS Act because it would, in effect, split apart their families. In an Op-Ed for Politico, Cesar Vargas of the DREAM Action Coalition termed the KIDS Act “a step backwards.” Greisa Martinez of United We Dream told the website VOXXI that “Proposals to provide citizenship for some young people while excluding our parents is not going to get our stamp of approval.” These young people are smart to see through the posturing behind the KIDS Act. How ironic that the GOP proclaims themselves the party of “family values” even as they promote such potentially divisive measures. No wonder that the nation’s most-widely read Spanish-language newspaper, La Opinion, called the KIDS Act “cruel and indecent.”
While it might seem that passing a limited measure providing some relief for the DREAMers is better than doing nothing at all, it’s by no means clear that the KIDS Act could pass the House. Witness the recent comments by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) comparing young immigrants to drug mules.
But the bigger problem is this: The KIDS Act undermines real efforts at reform because it is not about helping young immigrants. It is about helping House Republicans camouflage their refusal to move on comprehensive reform, and giving them a way to save face if reform fails. It would be far better for House Republicans to produce a more inclusive immigration proposal, or for Speaker Boehner to allow a vote on the Senate plan. Consider that polling consistently shows that a majority of voters favor comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
The KIDS Act is not a legitimate alternative to the DREAM Act; it is simply too little, too late. It represents a distraction, not progress, on immigration reform.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.