Not all Dreamers should be granted legal status

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.

The more delicate question is who should get legalized. And here again, the Democrats ask for too much by proposing an across-the-board accommodation for all undocumented young people.

I’m all for giving DACA recipients legal status and a pathway to citizenship – which should not be automatic, but earned. It means something to be a U.S. citizen, and it should be worked toward.

But, for me, that’s where it ends. I’m not in favor of giving legal status to the entire universe of Dreamers — all 3.6 million of them.

It’s not fair to legalize hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t go through background checks, didn’t take a risk in coming forward, and didn’t lose sleep over whether they were going to be deported by the Trump administration. Those folks just hung back, and let this tense drama play out. Now that a resolution may be in sight, they can’t just ride the coattails of those who went the extra mile and put their trust in America to do the right thing.

And speaking of America, the concept of risk-taking is in the DNA of this place. It’s what immigrants do. It’s what the parents of these people did in coming here — even if it was illegally. We ought to honor those who stiffen their spine and take risks. And we should not go out of our way to accommodate those who play it safe — and then have the gall to come around and expect a share of the bounty.