Latest Republican rollout, which knowledgeable observers wisely recognize as a ploy to save face while standing in way of legitimate reform, would leave parents in the dust.
Call it the miracle of Capitol Hill: House Republican leaders, who had consistently opposed every measure resembling justice — or even compassion — for undocumented immigrants, were suddenly transformed last week into passionate champions of legalization for Dreamers.
Yes, it happened. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a pair of Virginia Republicans with solid anti-immigration pedigrees, floated a proposal they named the KIDS Act, consistent with the “step-by-step” approach to immigration reform pushed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The KIDS Act, which sounds like a refried version of the DREAM Act, would clear the way for some undocumented youth who were brought to this country as children to become citizens. But not for their parents.
There are about 1.26 million young immigrants in the U.S., 110,000 in New York, according to the Migration Policy Institute. All indications are, they have little sympathy for the Republican proposal.
“We will not leave our parents behind,” said Greisa Martínez, a Dreamer from Texas whose father was deported in 2006.
Her statement was a surprise only for the tone-deaf KIDS Act proponents. Given that Cantor, Goodlatte and Boehner voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, the Dreamers’ mistrust is perfectly understandable.
“The ‘Kids Act’ is just childish games by House Republicans,” said César Vargas, 28, a Mexican-born Dreamer who graduated from the City University of New York School of Law and is the director of a coalition that advocates for young immigrants. “It pits Dreamers against our families.”
María Fernanda Cabello, 22, came from Mexico when she was 12. A Political Science graduate, she is an organizer in Washington, D.C., for United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant youth-led organization. Last Tuesday she was one of 60 Dreamers — 10 from New York — who attended a KIDS Act hearing in the nation’s Capitol.
“Many of the Congress people said things like, ‘But your parents would be happy if you can become citizens even if they cannot, right?’ and I thought they were trying to create divisions between our parents and us,” Cabello uncomfortably remembered.
Yet, Anthony Alarcón, 19, a Communications major at LaGuardia Community College who also attended the hearing, was optimistic despite his parents having self-deported two years ago.
“The Republicans are divided and after King’s statements, that division is becoming public,” he said. “Even Cantor and Boehner rebuffed him. Who knows? They could be finally accepting they need comprehensive reform for the GOP to have a chance.”
Alarcón was referring to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a buffoonish figure infamous for his racist anti-immigrant remarks, who has become a problem for the GOP’s efforts to ingratiate itself with Hispanic voters.
Last week, he accused most Dreamers of “hauling (. . .) marijuana across the desert.” This time he went too far even for Boehner and Cantor, who called his words “hateful” and “inexcusable.”
Yet, neither their rebuke of King nor their failed attempt to use the KIDS Act to save face are going to win Republicans any Latino love. Only real reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants can do that.
“There is no question that what Goodlatte and Cantor have in mind is to simply offer yet another Band-Aid and thoughtless, piecemeal legislation,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. “Speaker Boehner, Mr. Cantor and others have a real opportunity to pass common-sense immigration reform. It’s the right thing to do for our country’s democracy and economy.”
Just in case, don’t hold your breath.
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