Steve Chapman
They sound like a group custom-built and poll-tested to appeal to Republicans: hardworking youngsters with a powerful attachment to America, upright habits and a thirst to join the Army or enroll at State U. But the potential beneficiaries of the Dream Act are getting no love from the GOP.

That's because they are illegal immigrants -- born abroad and brought here as children by parents desperate for a better life. Why they evoke scorn is a mystery. The parents may be faulted for overlooking our laws, but not their offspring, who had no say in the matter.

Many of the kids are as American as Miranda Lambert in every respect but place of birth: They speak English, play football and softball, post photos on Facebook and know the menu at McDonald's.

Some don't even realize they're not U.S. citizens until they apply for a driver's license or a Social Security card. At that point they discover they are subject to summary deportation to a country they may not even remember.

They learn that their only future in this country is no future at all: living in the shadows, dodging the law and missing out on opportunities the native-born take for granted. It's a life sentence of exile, internal or external.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act would mitigate their plight by offering them a deal. Those who have been here at least five years and arrived before the age of 16 could ask for conditional lawful permanent resident status, which would let them stay for six years. Only those who have a high school diploma or GED, "demonstrate good moral character" and pass a criminal background check would qualify.

During that period, they would be free to go to college or enlist in the military. Those who do either for two years would be eligible for permanent legal status, allowing them to become citizens. Those who don't would be obligated to leave.

Time was, Republicans could appreciate how people would be so determined to enter the Promised Land that they would ignore the law. It was the GOP icon Ronald Reagan who in 1986 supported and signed an immigration bill offering absolution to nearly 3 million undocumented foreigners.

"I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally," he declared unashamedly.

The Dream Act once had considerable Republican support. Robert Gates, George W. Bush's defense secretary, endorsed it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry defended it in presidential debates. Richard Lugar, the longest serving U.S. senator in Indiana history, signed on as the chief GOP sponsor. When it came up in 2007, it had the support of a dozen Republican senators.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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