One of the more detrimental features of the current Republican Party is its indulgence of the stubborn nativism that characterizes its base. That was on full display last night, when only eight Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who have demonstrated ambition, good character and talent.
The DREAM Act is no massive plan for “amnesty;” it is narrowly tailored to young folk who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. They would be eligible for citizenship only if they served in the military for two years or finished two years of college. They would join the ranks of patriotic and productive Americans.
Michael Gerson, chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, had called on Republicans in Congress to support the bill:
It would be difficult to define a more sympathetic group of potential Americans. They must demonstrate that they are law-abiding and education-oriented. Some seek to defend the country they hope to join. The Defense Department supports the Dream Act as a source of quality volunteers. Business groups welcome a supply of college-educated workers. The Department of Homeland Security endorses the legislation so it can focus on other, more threatening, groups of illegal immigrants. . .
Whatever its legislative fate, the Dream Act is effective at stripping away pretense. Opponents of this law don’t want earned citizenship for any illegal immigrant – even those personally guilty of no crime, even those who demonstrate their skills and character. The Dream Act would be a potent incentive for assimilation. But for some, assimilation clearly is not the goal. They have no intention of sharing the honor of citizenship with anyone called illegal – even those who came as children, have grown up as neighbors and would be willing to give their lives in the nation’s cause.
During the current lame-duck session of Congress, Republicans have been correct to emphasize economic concerns, which the public prioritized in the recent election. But supporting the Dream Act would send a useful message – that some Republicans in victory are capable of governing for the sake of everyone.
But the GOP isn’t interested in proving its sense of duty to everyone. It only wants to satisfy its rich backers (witness its fealty to keeping tax cuts for the rich) and throw a few crumbs to its narrow-minded base. For those reasons, the DREAM Act is probably doomed in the Senate, where Republicans have pledged to block votes on everything else until they get the extension of tax cuts for the rich.