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Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Dreamers: Don’t let Democrats fool you

SAN DIEGO — So Democrats are now the saviors of the Dreamers? How in the world did that happen?

For those of us who have paid close attention to the immigration debate over the last couple decades, it’s surreal watching Democrats in Congress threaten to go to the mattresses for a legislative fix that protects undocumented young people. After all, when Democrats had the chance to get Dreamers out of harm’s way by legalizing them, they were asleep at the switch.

It’s not politics. Most Democrats don’t have anything against Dreamers, many of whom they see as future Democratic voters. Blame Republicans for that, since their approach to immigration is often belligerent, boorish and boneheaded.

It’s just personal. Democrats aren’t ready to adopt the Dreamers by taking on their cause. As long as restrictionists paint as “amnesty” any accommodation for the Dreamers, you won’t see squeamish Democrats snuggling up to that group.

Such cowardice. Many Americans don’t have a problem with accommodating young people who — aside from being undocumented — — have the same American values as their own children. According to a recent Marist poll, 81 percent of Americans support allowing Dreamers to stay in the U.S. legally, either with or without citizenship; only 15 percent think they should be deported. That includes 92 percent of Democrats — and 67 percent of Republicans.

In fact, although Democrats have promised a government shutdown if Republicans don’t protect recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the estimated 800,000 undocumented young people who signed up for a temporary reprieve under the last president and had it snatched from them by the current one — Democratic leaders may be backing off that threat.

During a recent appearance on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois — who earlier said that he was “not prepared to go home for the holidays until we get our work done,” which would include protection for DACA recipients — signaled that he may be back in the Land of Lincoln in time to trim the tree. Durbin lacks the nerve to do what a shutdown requires — cutting off, as he said on the show, “the resources and programs that many middle-income families use across America.”

Dear Dreamers, you are now — and have always been — on your own, and the last group of people you should trust to have your back are Democrats. Actions speak louder than words. And despite what Democrats say about how you belong in the United States, they have not done all they could to keep you here. They’ve always acted in their own best interest, but rarely in yours.

There are villains in this story, Democrats who went overboard either failing to come to the aid of Dreamers — or, even worse, helping remove them from the country. The Democratic unholy trinity includes former Rep. and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Let’s start in August 2001, when the original “Dream Act” was proposed by Durbin and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. The bill would have given young undocumented immigrants a shot at U.S. citizenship if they joined the military or went to college.

Of course, the terrorist attacks one month later scuttled any discussion of immigration reform for the next few years.

When those talks began in 2005, with President George W. Bush eager to sign legislation, Democrats and immigrant advocates convinced Dreamers not to settle for the piecemeal approach of the Dream Act and instead demand what then Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda called in 2001 “the whole enchilada” — namely, a path to citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. That was never going to happen. And Dreamers came away empty-handed.

Once President Obama took office in 2009, and started an enforcement juggernaut that would earn him the nickname “Deporter-in-Chief,” many Dreamers were swept up and removed from the country. That continued even after Obama unveiled DACA.

Finally, in 2010, when the Dream Act died in the Senate because it didn’t get enough votes for cloture, it was the “no” votes of five conservative Democrats — Jon Tester, Max Baucus, Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan and Ben Nelson — that killed it.

Dreamers, this is your wake-up call. Democrats want you to think they’re in your corner. But it’s not so.

The Democrats failed you. Don’t let them fool you.

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