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Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Feisty, outspoken Dreamers are true Americans

SAN DIEGO — Immigrant advocates have always said that Dreamers deserve to have a voice in their own fate.

I definitely see the value in that — now that a group of these undocumented young people have used their voices to shout down Nancy Pelosi.

Angry Dreamers called out the House Minority Leader Monday in her own back yard of San Francisco for meeting in private with President Trump and allegedly working out a deal to protect them from deportation. In exchange, Democrats would support something they have long voted for: border security, as long as a wall is off the table.

Early Tuesday morning, my cellphone rang. My father had been reading the newspaper when he came across an article about Pelosi’s nightmare run-in with the Dreamers. As a lifelong Democrat, he was confused.

“If Pelosi is trying to protect them and find a way for them to stay, why are they protesting her?” he asked.

I bet a lot of people — in both parties — are asking the same question.

I’ll tell you what I told my father. When you watch a video of the confrontation, it’s pretty clear that the Dreamers are worried that Pelosi — who was visibly shaken by the incident — is getting ready to sell them out in one of those back-room deals for which Washington is famous. They think she is a phony who doesn’t care one way or another what happens to them. They call her a liar, and they accuse her of not doing enough to give them legal status when she had the gavel.

Pelosi served as House speaker from 2007 to 2011, and intentionally kept comprehensive immigration reform off the agenda with an assist from her top lieutenant, Rahm Emanuel, a member of Congress until 2009 and now mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel — who called immigration “the third rail” of American politics — recognized that bringing the issue to the floor would split the Democratic coalition between Latinos who want legal status for the undocumented and white union members who worry this accommodation would increase competition for jobs. He was also concerned that forcing a vote on the issue would put in a tight spot those conservative white Democrats he had recruited to serve.

All the Dreamers know is that Pelosi and the Democratic Party betrayed them, and that they are now papering over that betrayal by using Trump as a boogeyman. They know that Pelosi could have spared them the frightening moment they’re facing now that Trump has rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and left them vulnerable to deportation. They also know that the Democratic leader has no credibility on deportations, since she did nothing while the Obama administration racked up a record number of removals as the deporter in chief.

You have to hand it to these kids. They may not be legal U.S. residents, but they have proved to be excellent judges of character. Because of their precarious legal status, they also pay close attention to the immigration debate. So in this legislative version of Three-Card Monte, they’re not fooled by the Democrats’ sleight of hand and always seem to know where the target card is.

These young people have figured out something that still eludes many partisans on the pro-immigrant left: Democrats have not done right by the Dreamers. This was no oversight. It’s not that Democrats lacked the votes or had other legislative priorities. Instead, this was a deliberate calculation by the Democratic Party that it couldn’t afford to adopt the Dreamers and get branded the “amnesty” party. Put simply, Democrats could have led on immigration but they didn’t have the guts.

And it’s not just Pelosi and Emanuel who are guilty of playing games with this delicate issue. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer all failed the leadership test.

After I explained all this to my dad, he had a new appreciation for Dreamers. These rabble-rousers have a healthy skepticism that his generation of Latino Democrats lacked.

“So what you’re saying is that they’re smart,” he said.

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. That’s another reason to do everything we can to keep them in this country, the only home they have ever known. It’s also pretty solid evidence that conservatives are wrong if they think the Dreamers are Democrats in waiting. They’re up for grabs.

Ornery. Outspoken. Strong-willed. Independent-minded. With just a touch of entitlement.

What do they call people like that? Answer: Americans.

Navarrette is a Washington Post Writers Group syndicated columnist.

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