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July 11, 2013 12:17 PM Dashing Dreams

By Ed Kilgore

The one tiny sliver of an opening in the obdurate opposition of House conservatives to comprehensive immigration reform involves the children of undocumented workers, the object of both legislative and executive-branch versions of the “Dream Act,” per this otherwise highly pessimistic report from the New York Times today:

[T]he one area where the [House Republican] legislators showed signs of some consensus was around the “Dreamers,” who many agreed should not be punished for the mistakes of their parents.

That’s a good thing. But as Daniel Luzer reports in the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, the encouraging word hasn’t percolated down to state-controlled Republican legislatures, who are doing their best to undermine the 2012 Obama policy that gave “Dreamers” some hope of attending college:

[Obama’s] new program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was a stopgap, a way of helping an especially sympathetic group of undocumented immigrants until Congress could pass comprehensive immigration reform. Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who are in high school or college, have finished high school, or have served in the military are granted an official status as “lawfully present.” It’s not the same as being fully legal, but it’s enough, the Obama administration hoped, to allow them to work, get a driver’s license, and go to college….
The roughly 500,000 who have been granted DACA status at least have the peace of mind of knowing they won’t be deported because they were brought here illegally as children. But it is state governments, not Washington, that largely determine who is eligible for things like driver’s licenses, admission to public colleges, and how much students must pay for secondary education. And state governments have reacted to Obama’s DACA initiative in pretty much the way you’d expect: blue states, which have long been more generous to undocumented immigrants, have, for the most part, tried to accommodate young people with DACA status, while many red states, or swing states with Republican-controlled governments, have not….
[P]robably the biggest reason states haven’t been eager to accommodate DACA students is electoral politics. Undocumented immigrants simply aren’t very popular with voters—especially Republicans, and especially in the Deep South. Indeed, two southern states, Alabama and South Carolina, bar undocumented students from even attending public colleges and universities, and a third, Georgia, denies them admission to its flagships, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. That goes for students with DACA status, too.

So while it’s nice that Republican Members of Congress express sympathy for “Dreamers,” it doesn’t much matter if dreams are dashed by the GOP policymakers who really control access to the stepping stones of opportunity.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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