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Republicans Will Rue the Day They Took on the Dreamers

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From voting or voicing support for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to signaling willingness to trigger a government shutdown and even impeachment proceedings over potential executive action on immigration, national Republicans continue to lurch hard right on immigration—staking out policy positions more extreme even than Mitt Romney’s.  At the same time, DREAMers have engaged in a series of public confrontations (or avoided confrontations, in Rand Paul’s case) to hold these lawmakers accountable.  As Amy Walter, a political handicapper at the Cook Political Report, recently tweeted: “Just as D’s were hounded on O’Care at townhalls in ’09/’10, R’s are seeing DREAMers flood theirs.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Dreamers are the tip of the spear of the immigration reform movement.  They are fiercely independent and hold all parties accountable – just ask President Obama, who’s been the focus of intense pressure and advocacy in recent years.  But when Republicans decided to vote against DACA and blame the Dreamers’ hard-won policy victory as the cause of kids fleeing Central America, it caused the Dreamers to focus on the GOP.  Republicans will rue the day they decided to take on the Dreamers.

Several observers have captured that incurring the wrath of Dreamers doesn’t just create an awkward and public confrontation – but actually exposes the deportation-only policy that the Republicans are espousing, but trying to avoid stating directly.  In a post titled, “The Dreamers Have Destroyed the Republican Immigration Strategy,” Jonathan Chait of New York magazine highlights how Republicans have both a substantive problem on immigration and “optical” one – and that confrontations with Dreamers are destroying the GOP on both fronts:

The optical response is crumbling, too, in the face of a brilliant media strategy by the Dreamers.  The Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.  Since their parents decided to bring them, and since they grew up in the United States, deporting them to a foreign country would be unjust and cruel.  The Dreamers have a simple media strategy: They publicly question Republican leaders wherever they appear, asking them to straightforwardly explain why they propose to have them deported.  The confrontations are powerful and immensely awkward for their subjects.  Rand Paul fled in terror; Paul Ryan awkwardly ignored the question.  Rubio, speaking in South Carolina, opted for direct confrontation…

…Of course, the 2016 campaign has hardly begun.  (Though begun it has.)  The trouble for Republicans is that the political theater created by the Dreamers is not going to stop.  They can try their best to control officially sanctioned media debates, but the Dreamers are staging debates without permission, endlessly highlighting the cruelty of the Republican stance.  It is a strategy for which the Republicans so far have no answer.  The symbolic denouement of Rubio’s immigration debacle may well be an angry old man brandishing his cane at young Dreamers.

And as Greg Sargent notes of Republican opposition to executive action building on the success of the DACA program:

[Republicans] are opposed to anything Obama might do to expand that program, and will probably vote in the future against that, too.  This has left Republicans in the position of advocating against Obama’s enforcement priorities — that is, advocating against deprioritizing the removals of longtime residents with jobs, families or ties to their communities who don’t pose a public safety threat, the DREAMers included, to focus on the removal of serious criminals and recent border crossers.  And though Republicans don’t like to admit this directly, they are now left advocating for refocusing enforcement priorities on the removal of those low-priority populations.

For Republicans, this is the inevitable result of building their posture on this issue largely around opposition to Obama — both to his enforcement priorities, and to any executive actions he might take to implement them…If Obama expands DACA, Republicans will likely face more pressure from GOP base voters to vow to roll that back — escalating the numbers who would lose protection from deportation if Republicans get their way…But as Republican operatives themselves have conceded, focusing only on impressing these folks won’t make the GOP look any better to Latinos or anyone else outside the party’s ‘core constituencies.’

“With the success of DACA under their belt, DREAMers are now working to protect their older siblings and parents.  Republican operatives should be very, very worried about the impending immigration executive action. If the Obama executive action is significant, the positive response is likely to overwhelm those on the wrong side of DREAMers—and the wrong side of history,” said Sharry.