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Not all Dreamers should be granted legal status

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- The entire immigration debate -- over who comes, who goes, and who should stay -- has funneled down to one thing: ending the legal and bureaucratic nightmare caused by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The White House is poised to reveal the details of what it claims will be an immigration reform plan that can win support from both political parties, and one element of the proposal reportedly will be a permanent fix to DACA.

This boils down to essentially creating a legal "safe space" for undocumented young people who are DACA recipients, whose personal information went into a government database, and who are at risk of being deported when the program expires in March.

So it's time to make clear that there is a big difference between the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients and the estimated 2.9 million Dreamers who don't have DACA protection -- because they did not apply, or applied but didn't qualify.

All of these undocumented people have at least one thing in common: They were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own. Thus Democrats want them all treated the same and given the same benefit: permanent legal status with a quick and automatic pathway to citizenship.

No such luck. The White House isn't offering what the Democrats were looking for. That can't be a surprise. The very fact that President Trump is considering any accommodations for Dreamers has already caused a firestorm from the nativist wing of the GOP. That's where you'll find simpletons arguing that anything that lets an undocumented person remain in the United States is -- gasp! -- "amnesty." In fact, Breitbart is calling the president "Amnesty Don."

Someone needs a dictionary. Amnesty means escaping accountability. And -- whatever the final legislative remedy for DACA recipients -- you can bet it'll be saturated with accountability. Besides, DACA has always been all about holding recipients accountable: requiring them to turn themselves in, get fingerprinted and photographed, hand over their home address and other personal information, etc.

The furthest the White House appears willing to go is to offer 1.8 million Dreamers -- or about half of the 3.6 million total undocumented immigrants who arrived under age 18 -- permanent legal status and a long road to "earned" citizenship. Trump is said to be offering citizenship after 10-12 years. In exchange, the president wants an end to so-called chain migration, the elimination of the diversity lottery, and $25 billion to build his "big beautiful wall" on the U.S.-Mexico border.

To buy into this plan, Republicans will need to have faith that 10-12 years is enough time for young people to get over their hatred of the GOP so these newly minted citizens will not simply vote Democratic in perpetuity.

That gamble could pay off, given how badly Democrats have disappointed the Dreamers by overpromising and underdelivering.

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