We’ve heard plenty over the past few years about “the dreamers,” young people who were brought into this country illegally by their parents and who, many argue, should be treated as if they were born here. These immigrants have dreams, to be sure, just as most young people in America do. But they also have it pretty good; they have grown up with most of the benefits of living in America, and have little realistic fear of deportation.
Now, the U.S. finds itself confronted with true dreamers, young people fleeing the terrible hardship and violence of life in Central America in the hope merely of remaining in America and attaining some of the benefits the “dreamers” already enjoy.
Democrats were largely united behind the “dreamers.” But what is their stance on the true dreamers?
Karen Tumulty and David Nakamura take up this question in the Washington Post. They find the Democrats split. They also find that the border crisis created by the influx of true dreamers threatens to flip the immigration debate:
Until now, the politics of immigration have been seen as a no-lose proposition for President Obama and the Democrats. If they could get a comprehensive overhaul passed, they would win. And if Republicans blocked it, the GOP would further alienate crucial Hispanic and moderate voters.
But with the current crisis on the Southwest border, where authorities have apprehended tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children since October, that calculus may be shifting.
Far away from the border, liberals seem willing to follow the logic of their pro-dreamer line. For example, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (who, amazingly, has presidential aspirations), sniffs: “It is contrary to everything we stand for as a people to summarily send children back to death. . .” (Meanwhile, some of O’Malley’s constituents have reason to wonder where they can get amnesty from Baltimore).
Near the border, the influx of tens of thousands of children prompts a more reasonable view. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who represents El Paso, has been surprised by the anger he has heard from his constituents toward the refugees. “They feel like we can’t take care of everyone, and these children and their families are gaming the system.”
O’Rourke’s surprise at this sentiment is surprising. But the latest wave of illegal immigrants and their families are not gaming the system any more than the “dreamers” and their families did — and are.
Given the resentment over this recent wave of illegal entry, the politics of immigration are no longer a no-lose proposition for President Obama and the Democrats. Obama takes a double hit. His policies — including his executive order officially allowing “dreamers” to remain and work in the U.S. — and his push for a larger amnesty and path to citizenship signaled to Central America that our borders are open to young immigrants.
Moreover, Obama ignored clear warnings that an immigration crisis was ahead. Gov. Rick Perry told him in a 2012 letter that “there is a surge of unaccompanied illegal minors entering the United States.”
Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat whose district encompasses Tucson and who faces a difficult reelection campaign, confirms Obama’s culpability. He notes that “the numbers have spiked recently, but this is not a new development.” “It seems to me that the administration just wasn’t playing close attention and could have acted sooner,” he adds.
But what action should Obama have taken “sooner” that would have avoided the crisis? One obvious answer is that he should have worked to repeal the 2008 law that grants full adjudicatory hearings to children who enter the U.S. illegally from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Yet even now, Obama isn’t pushing for this.
At a deeper level, many may conclude, as I do, that until the U.S. makes it more difficult for illegals to enter the country and limits, rather than expands, the benefits, rights, and privileges available to those who are here, we will face crisis after crisis at the border. That is why the true dreamers may fundamentally have flipped the immigration debate.