Undocumented youth and supporters rally in Washington, DC in favor of the Dream Act. (Photo: By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images )

Opinion: DREAM On: Immigration reform should not focus on Dreamers

As the GOP licks its wounds and the Democrats lick their chops after this election, the broad impact Latino voters had throughout the country on the president’s reelection will once again focus the national discussion on immigration reform. We’ve been here before.

Presidents from both parties, as well as Republicans and Democrats in Congress, have tried to pass immigration reform to no avail. And as Congress has failed to pass a reform bill that would relieve Latino families from the brutal results of our immigration system, a segment of the undocumented community has emerged from the dialogue — the Dreamers.

Dreamers are a group of undocumented residents who draw their name from the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill proposed more than a decade ago as a compromise for failure to come to an agreement on a comprehensive reform bill. Seeking to influence the public and policy makers through moral persuasion, Dreamers are young, smart, and they challenge authority by daring police to arrest and deport them.

These are bold kids, but something about them has always been a little unsettling. Keep in mind that as we march into this debate over immigration yet again, the language and images both sides use in this debate will be critical. My own wish is to pass a comprehensive immigration bill that addresses the perverted incentives built into the immigration system that ultimately leaves no participant — not the government, nor the immigrants or the businesses that hire them — particularly interested in cooperating.

As Dreamers protest across the country, trying to convince the public that our immigration system is unjust, I am left wondering how effective they will be in helping comprehensive reform move forward. I wonder how persuasive it is to on the one hand argue that the system is merciless, while on the other hand expect to travel around the country challenging authority. How brutal can the system be if these kids are allowed to flaunt the law like that?

This image is damaging to the prize, because the system is brutal. It is unjust. It is unreasonable. It’s irrational and economically damaging. But that’s not the message I get from Dreamers.  If I weren’t already convinced that they should be given a pathway to citizenship, I’d question whether or not the government isn’t negotiating immigration reform from both sides of the table. Of course, that’s why the president has implemented the harshest deportation program since Eisenhower; to address that argument. But who cares?

Immigration reform will be tough to pass. Getting it past a House of Representatives run by the Republicans may make this a drawn-out affair at a time when the president will be under extreme pressure to move on and focus on the broader fight over the budget and the economy.

We’ve been here before. Faced with a decision to address health care or immigration reform, the president chose health care. I’m not sure he had a choice, but choose he did, and in the process condemned the Latino community to three years of hard time. Will the president sell us out? I can’t say I’m confident he wouldn’t. And this is where I think Dreamers can be detrimental to the goal of immigration reform.

To put it bluntly, Dreamers think they are special. They feel entitled. They’re cute. They’re smart. They make people cry because of their compelling stories. But that’s not special. And if times get tough for the president, I fear he may use the Dreamers as a pressure valve. He may focus the debate away from comprehensive reform and towards this small group of vocal undocumented immigrants.

I have a problem with that. Dreamers aren’t special. They don’t suffer disproportionately for being undocumented. Besides the individual level storytelling, they have not moved the debate except to focus much of the debate on them. I have a problem with that. I think that needs to change before we go back into the fray.

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