How Much Conservative Muscle Will It Take To Lift the DREAM Act?

While some would have you believe that immigration reform is a liberal issue championed only by Democrats, past debates and prior attempts to pass immigration reform have shown us that Republicans and conservatives are champions as well. Granted some of the most stalwart Republican supporters have recently turned their back on reasonable debate (think John McCain’s “build the dang fence” and Lindsey Graham’s summer flirtation with repealing birthright citizenship), yet immigration reform still enjoys the support of important conservative leaders—leaders like Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and the Diaz-Balart brothers of Florida. Congress can’t pass the DREAM Act without Republican support, but how much conservative muscle will it take to finally make this bipartisan legislation a reality?

Over the weekend a few more important conservatives jumped into the fray. Former Illinois Republican Governor Jim Edgar responded to some of the criticism circulated about the DREAM Act in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune:

This is no amnesty bill…A qualifying immigrant would receive a six-year conditional resident status. After that period, the immigrant could obtain a green card, government authorization to permanently live and work in the United States, if he or she has completed two years of college or two years of honorable service in the U.S. Armed Forces and maintained a clean record. Only after acquiring a green card could an individual apply for citizenship…The measure charts a rigorous path that undocumented youths must negotiate to gain legal status and qualify for citizenship, and supporting it would be both good government and good politics.

The conservative Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote:

…it’s in the interests of the country that Republicans in the next Congress find some room for compromise, and pending legislation aimed at undocumented youths is a good place to start. Restrictionists dismiss the Dream Act as an amnesty that rewards people who entered the country illegally. But the bill targets individuals brought here by their parents as children. What is to be gained by holding otherwise law-abiding young people, who had no say in coming to this country, responsible for the illegal actions of others? The Dream Act also makes legal status contingent on school achievement and military service, the type of behavior that ought to be encouraged and rewarded.

Also this weekend, conservatives Joe Jacquot (Florida Deputy Attorney General) and David B. Rivkin Jr. (lawyer who served in the Department of Justice under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush) wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

With the incoming Congress looking for accomplishments, here’s one the Republican majority should take up immediately: immigration reform. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Republicans are its natural champions. The GOP led the way in 1986 and 1996, when partial immigration reforms were enacted. And a Republican Senate, with the support of President George W. Bush, passed comprehensive reform in 2006, only to see it die in the House. Immigration is closely tied to everything that makes America great—our might, our wealth and our freedom. Because Democrats have ignored that fact, the door is wide open for Republicans to come through and deliver.

Today, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform added to the chorus by hosting a teleconference featuring Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (not a conservative) and President Bush’s former Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, who said that taking up the DREAM Act was one way to ensure American competitiveness in the 21st Century. And just two months ago, one of the wealthiest conservatives in the country, Rupert Murdoch, came to Capitol Hill to lobby for immigration reform as well.

So why—with so many conservatives on board—can’t Congress pass immigration legislation? Well, Republican leaders on the inside aren’t jumping on board as fast as you’d think. Despite all the evidence that shows immigration reform is good policy for our country, for Democrats and yes, even for Republicans, some politicians are caught up in their own personal political calculations and may not see a vote for immigration reform playing well back home. Another cynical explanation is that some Republicans may be loathe to give a Democratic President a win on immigration.

In the meantime, however, while these calculations are being tabulated, a generation of young people is being lost to low paying jobs, meager access to higher education and a Congress unable to work together to remove a massive obstacle standing between them and their shot at the American Dream. Passing the DREAM Act may seem like a heavy lift for some conservative leaders, but nothing, as they say, that’s worthwhile is every easy.

Photo by damndirty.

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  • Rob Gard

    When some politicians have spent years demonizing and dehumanizing immigrants, while purporting to make some distinction between “legal” and “illegal” immigration, the ground may need to be prepared anew before the narrative can be changed to permit passage. The Republican Party is very good at framing and messaging, but they may have lost control of the framing of the issue in this instance, and cannot wlk it back without some embarassment. They have been cultivating unreasonableness so well and for so long that they can’t turn it around.

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