The Corner

One Slice at a Time on Amnesty?

As the name suggests, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform” have long resisted the mere suggestion that they should try a piecemeal approach and pursue smaller, less politically toxic amnesties. About a year ago, I was on a panel with Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, one of the chief pro-amnesty activists, and Esther Olavarria, the policy director for DHS who used to be Kennedy’s immigration person. In the flush of a new leftist, pro-amnesty administration, both were categorical that under no circumstances would there be a piecemeal approach to amnesty, insisting that everything would be folded into a comprehensive bill.

What a difference a year makes. Now, panicked that they’re going to get nothing at all, the pro-amnesty crowd is considering trying to move smaller, targeted amnesties, such as the Dream Act (for adults brought here illegally as children) and AgJobs (an amnesty and indentured-labor program for farmworkers). The first crack came late last year when the new head of MALDEF called for a piecemeal approach, mentioning not only the Dream Act and AgJobs but also spousal immigration rights for homosexuals and banning states from passing immigration-enforcement measures. A couple weeks ago, on another panel I was on, Sharry expressed openness to the piecemeal approach, and stories in The Hill and this Tucson paper suggest that support is growing among the amnesty folks (LULAC, for instance, is now in the piecemeal camp).

And the activists focused specifically on the Dream Act (usually illegal-alien college students who’d benefit from it) have been getting increasingly strident in their criticisms of the D.C.-based “comprehensive” crowd. This is from one of their sites:

From 2007, even before the CIR bill was introduced campaign officially kicked off, Dream youth were told to hold off on the DREAM Act. We were told, point blank, that if we advocated for the DREAM Act we would be killing a larger reform package. That by merely sharing our stories, we would be activating the anti-immigrant sentiment in the country and doing harm to everyone, including our parents. We were shamed, called selfish, and ridiculed at every turn. But through it all we managed to pull through with an an amazing movement to boot. Where we were denied a seat at a table, we created our own table and, as youth, we reclaimed our own movement. We are no longer dependent on privileged, usually white, out-of-touch organizers to do our bidding or for that matter even speak for us. What does it tell you about your movement when the speakers don’t even represent the issue at hand?! We can speak for ourselves.

(I especially like the part about “privileged, usually white, out-of-touch organizers” — racial grievance even within the pro-amnesty movement!)

The problem for the piecemeal crowd is that it might be too late even for small-ish immigration bills. If they’d moved forward with them in 2007, they might well have gotten them passed. If they’d moved forward with smaller bills last year, they might have gotten somewhere. But this fall, in a panic at the lack of progress on amnesty, to try to ram through some small amnesties as a way of placating their left wing? I don’t see how that works.

The only piecemeal thing that might have a chance would be a modified version of the Dream Act that added two important elements: First, to ensure future kids won’t find themselves in such a situation, mandate E-Verify for all new hires; and second, to ensure that no adult responsible for putting these kids in such a predicament could ever benefit, abolish all the family immigration categories except the one for spouses and minor children of citizens. Even I could vote for a bill like that.

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