Backlash From Nativists Delays DREAM Act

Compassion? Well . . . wasn’t that naive?

Supporters of the DREAM Act pursued a misguided strategy — that it would be enough to tell the poignant stories of scholarly, bright, hard-working children of undocumented immigrants and the tragedy of their curtailed education.

It wasn’t.

Advocates assumed that if other citizens got to know these students, they’d hardly insist on punishing kids for the sins of their illegal immigrant parents.

Compassion, as it turns out, was not integral to the new politics.

Students of the undocumented kind, no matter their academic performance, have become fodder in a ferocious political insurgency. Stories about Straight-A students, raised in the U.S., high achievers forced after high school to take menial jobs in the underground economy — none of it mattered.

This week, José Salcedo, a Miami Dade College student government president, honor student and student rep on the board of trustees, made a public declaration of his illegal status at a DREAM Act rally. It won’t help.

The populist campaign against illegal immigrants abides no special exception for young innocents, even honor students.

Politicians who know better seem cowed by the campaign against the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented graduates of U.S. high schools without criminal records to attend college or join the military with a path toward legal residency. (Iowa governor-elect Terry Branstad further exploited the nativist mood, suggesting his state bar children of illegal immigrants from K-12 public schools.)

Even a few politicians from South Florida have found it expedient to diss the DREAM Act. U.S. Senator-elect Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep.-elect David Rivera, both sons of immigrants, oppose it. George LeMieux, the appointed U.S. Senator from Broward, a lame duck with nothing to lose, said he couldn’t support the DREAM Act “until we have taken substantial and effective measures to secure our borders.” LeMieux well knows the long, vulnerable Mexican border will always provide an excuse to say no.

The Obama administration’s trying to push the DREAM Act through a lame duck Congress. A long shot. Too much talk about compassion. Not enough about economics.

The DREAM Act has been sold as just that. Something dreamy rather than corollary to an immigrant-driven economy. Non-citizen immigrants have founded a quarter of American tech and engineering start-ups and half the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, according to a joint study by Duke University and the University of California at Berkley. Non-citizen immigrants file for patents at twice the rate of native-born Americans.

A McGill University study found they “outperform native college graduates in wages, patenting, commercializing and licensing patents.” A Babson College study found 61 percent of all new businesses in recession-stricken 2008 were started by immigrants.

Maybe the DREAM Act should have been framed as a stimulus package for a laggard economy in sore need of motivated, hungry, driven, well-educated young immigrant entrepreneurs.
In an angry time, low on compassion for immigrants, even for their children, it should have been called a jobs act.


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