Linda Chavez

The Dream Act, which provides a path to citizenship for those children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, passed the House by 216-198 this week, but will likely die in the Senate for lack of bipartisan support. Democrats knew they have no chance of passing the Dream Act, but tried to force the issue to a vote so they could hammer home their message to Hispanics: Democrats are your friends; Republicans are not. When it became clear Thursday they didn't have the votes in the Senate to block a Republican filibuster, they tabled the measure.

It was pure cynicism on the part of Democrats, who have done little to advance immigration reform in the two years they've controlled both Congress and the White House. But Republicans may, nonetheless, be walking right into their trap.

For all the loose talk of "amnesty" in the immigration debate, proposals to grant a path to legalization for adult immigrants who entered or remained in the United State illegally were never true amnesty. The Bush plan included hefty fines for all transgressors -- which, by definition, is not amnesty -- as well as requiring them to pay back taxes, undergo criminal checks, learn English, and go to the back of the citizenship line. As conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin notes, the definition of amnesty is to "exempt from punishment."

But the Dream Act is amnesty in the most meritorious sense. Many of those eligible to participate came as babes in arms or as young children. While their parents committed a civil offense -- not a criminal one, as many people seem, wrongly, to believe -- the kids had no choice in the matter. Nonetheless, this amnesty would not be automatic; it would be earned. Only those who successfully completed at least two years of college or military service would be eligible-and they would have to demonstrate good moral character.

Do Republicans really want to tell young people who've lived here most of their lives, who may speak no other language but English, and who are even willing to sacrifice themselves on the battlefield for the protection of all Americans: "We don't want you"?

What are the alternatives -- let them continue to live in the shadows or deport them? Not even the most aggressively anti-immigration groups are calling for the latter.

A number of Republicans who previously supported the legislation -- including one of its chief authors, Sen. Orrin Hatch -- have decided it is too risky to vote for it now. But the real risk is to the future of the Republican Party.


Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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