Republicans should have hoisted the Democrats on their own petards by passing the Dream Act. This is not about border security -- which is much improved. There are fewer illegal immigrants coming into the United States now than at any point in almost 40 years, according to the Department of Homeland Security. This is largely a symbolic issue -- only about a million of the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the country would be eligible to benefit from the Dream Act because of the education and other requirements of the bill.
But it is important symbolism. It says to these stateless children, in the words of Ezekiel, "The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity." It also says to the more than 35 million Hispanics who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, Republicans have a heart and don't want to punish those who've done everything in their power to serve the only country they've known as home.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently called for a "zone between deportation and amnesty" for illegal immigrants, which would allow them to work in the country. Gingrich is a rock-hard conservative, but he recognizes that the hard-line that has come to dominate the GOP's stance on immigration poses problems for the future of the party, and he's recently launched an outreach to Hispanics. That zone should encompass a path to legalization for the most worthy among illegal immigrants.
The refusal of all but a tiny handful of Republicans to vote for the Dream Act will become a future nightmare. Hard-line anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric has already cost Republicans at least two U.S. Senate seats, Nevada and Colorado, even in a GOP landslide election. It could well cost Republicans the White House in 2012 -- the Democrats are betting on it.
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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