Consider it the calm before the storm.
Right now, immigration groups and activists on the right are generally holding their fire on Senator Marco Rubio’s DREAM Act, waiting for the legislation to be released. But many of those who opposed the 2010 version of the DREAM Act are likely to oppose Rubio’s as well — and just as vehemently.
To be clear, Rubio’s DREAM is, by all accounts, significantly different from the 2010 DREAM Act. Both plans would give legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minor children, and who planned to attend college or join the military. But while the 2010 DREAM provided young adults with a path to citizenship, Rubio’s legislation would give only non-immigrant visas. Young adults on the non-immigrant visas would have a set number of years — not yet announced by Rubio’s office — that they could legally stay in the country without having gone on to, say, get a green card or marry a U.S. citizen.
Rubio has been reaching out to various conservatives about the new DREAM, including such figures as Sean Hannity and Senator Jim DeMint (R., S.C.). His office has distributed to chiefs-of-staff for Republican senators a PowerPoint presentation entitled “The Republican Challenge Among Hispanic Voters.” The presentation highlights the U.S.’s growing Hispanic population, and cites a poll conducted by the Hispanic Leadership Network that finds that 73 percent of Hispanics (and 63 percent of Republicans) think that undocumented immigrants who have no criminal records should be given legal status. “Republicans can’t ‘just say no’ to legislation expanding opportunity — we must have an alternative,” is one of the “concluding thoughts” in the presentation.
“People understandably want to see the details before they take a position on it,” Rubio press secretary Alex Conant says of how conservative immigration groups have reacted. “But I think people are very open to the idea. Folks understand that while these young people don’t have any legal claim to remain in the United States, they do have a claim on our conscience. They haven’t done anything wrong themselves.”
But not everyone is getting a meeting. Kris Kobach, the architect of Arizona’s SB 1070 bill, says he hasn’t been contacted by Rubio or his staff about DREAM. Kobach, now the secretary of state of Kansas, tried to meet with Rubio in April in D.C. “I did reach out and see if he was available to meet with me, but his staff reported he was unavailable,” Kobach says.
Asked if he could back the bill under any circumstances, Kobach responds, “Not if he’s giving non-immigrant visas to people who are unlawfully present. That’s an amnesty.”
Kobach isn’t alone. “We have consistently opposed amnesties,” says Ira Mehlman, media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that opposes illegal immigration. “Even though there is no actual bill to look at, it has all the earmarks of an amnesty and it’s something we’d be against.” Does it matter that Rubio’s bill would give young adults non-immigrant visas instead of citizenship? “If it permits people to remain in the country, gives them some sort of quasi-legal status, it’s a form of amnesty,” Mehlman responds.
Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, says the current version, as described by media reports, “is a non-starter” for the group. NumbersUSA would consider supporting the bill only if it ended chain migration, required employers to use E-Verify nationwide, and permitted only those young adults who had been brought to the United States at a very young age (think ten or younger) to be eligible for legal status. If the bill doesn’t include those provisions, NumbersUSA intends to actively oppose it.
That’s no small threat. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, calls NumbersUSA “sort of the most influential lobbying group most people have never heard of” and notes that “they’ve got a million activists.” Krikorian himself has concerns about the legislation; among other things, he would like to see the bill include a provision that would end chain migration.
For now, congressional Republicans have remained largely silent. Representative Steve King (R., Iowa), one of the most influential Republicans on immigration, said in a statement: “Senator Rubio contributes significantly to the national debate through his honest involvement in the public dialogue, and I’m happy to work with him on any subject — but I cannot comment on any bill until I see it in its final form.” Of the members of the House Immigration Subcommittee I contacted, only Dennis Ross (R., Fla.) got back to me with a positive comment: “As a 5-of-5 NumbersUSA Member of the House, I am unashamed to say there is a lot to like about his proposal.”
House speaker John Boehner said he found Rubio’s proposal “of interest” last week, but was frank about his doubts that the legislation could advance in the House, saying “it would be difficult at best.”
Boehner isn’t the only skeptic about the legislation’s chances of passing the Senate and the House. “Frankly, I don’t think that aggressive opposition by me will be necessary,” Kobach says, adding that the legislation doesn’t have a “prayer in Congress.” The DREAM Act, he continues, “will collapse of its own weight if he proposes amnesty.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.