Joseph Sabino Mistick: The Dreamers & the American dream
It is a grainy television clip from 1980, but it has more punch now than it did back then. As George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan slugged it out in a debate for their party's presidential nomination, the conservative Republican icons disagreed on many things but found common ground on immigration.
When asked if the children of illegal immigrants should be permitted to attend public school free of charge, like all other children in Texas, Bush spoke first.
“If they're living here, I don't want to see 6- and 8-year-old kids being made totally uneducated and made to feel like they're living totally outside the law. These are good people, strong people,” Bush said.
Reagan, who eventually won the nomination and chose Bush as his running mate, went even further: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit. And then, while they're working and earning here, they can pay taxes here. And then when they want to go back, they can go back. Open the borders both ways.”
Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat, followed suit and kept the American dream alive for nearly 700,000 children of illegal immigrants, brought here by their parents. He created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the young people who are protected by that program are called Dreamers.
Immigration is still the big issue, but Donald Trump is the conservative Republican icon now, and the future of the Dreamers is in his hands.
Last week, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Franklin Graham, son and successor to the Rev. Billy Graham, made headlines by weighing in for Trump, even though polls show that his evangelical support is slipping. Both acknowledge Trump's shortcomings, but both cite his pro-life stance as a big reason for their continued support.
And the real test may be whether Trump protects the Dreamers. National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez recently said, “To those members of Congress committed to life: It doesn't finish when the baby is born. Womb to tomb.”
Even Trump, who keeps changing the deal he is trying to cut in exchange for honoring DACA, once tweeted, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!”
According to Perkins, Trump is “a very transactional president.” To that end, Trump sometimes seems to be using the Dreamers as poker chips, trying to leverage their future for something else he wants. So it remains to be seen if he will put a price on the American dream.
Whatever Trump decides, he has political cover, because his most zealous supporters will follow him anywhere. His now-famous claim that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any support seems to be holding true.
So, when it comes to the Dreamers, he can do the right thing, just because it is the right thing to do.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).