Whitesburg KY

Our children, our dreamers

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

Show of hands, please: How many of us can remember a time in our childhood when we told our parents where our family was going to live?

Right. Nobody. Unless you count the handful of child actors who are their families’ primary breadwinners. Exception noted.

Just about all of us grow up wherever our custodial parents decide they’re going to live. The parent-child dynamic, writ large.

Yet the debate rages on over whether we should punish, forever or until they lose all hope, the children who grow up here with the unfortunate combination of ambition and undocumented parents. Most of the politicians who want to harm these innocent children — and gutting a child’s potential does cripple his or her future, so “harm” is the right word here — are the same Republicans who love to brag about their family values.

When it comes to championing children, you can’t cherry-pick. If you look out for only some children, you don’t really care about children. You care about keeping your own hide in elected office. How does it feel, I wonder, to kowtow to people who are happy only when you agree to hold some children down?

The Florida Senate has been wrestling with a bill that would allow students who attended and graduated from an American high school to get the far cheaper in-state tuition rate at public colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status. These kids are known as dreamers, for the best reasons you can imagine.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both Republicans, support this bill, as do a growing number of Republican legislators. It’s easy to see this as a cynical move on their part to woo back Hispanic voters who’ve had it with the party’s relentless attack on immigrants. Maybe so, but as a wise civil rights activist once told me, we don’t need their hearts. We need them to do the right thing.

Republican Joe Negron chairs the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee and tried to prevent the bill from reaching the Senate floor. Fellow Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala — who is Negron’s rival for the Senate presidency this fall — managed to work around him to bring it to the floor. As of my deadline, supporters were predicting it will finally pass.

Not, apparently, with Senate President Don Gaetz’s support. He opposes the bill, as he explained in a recent op-ed that tried to contrast America’s veterans with dreamers, which have nothing to do with each other. He also wrote that he is worried about children of terrorists invading our schools, which also has nothing to do with the Florida bill, but it sounds good if you want to keep Americans scared and xenophobic.

Just a guess on my part, but Gaetz may have revealed his primary reason for opposing the bill in his opening paragraph, where he referred to the “Northwest Floridians who are emailing and calling” him.

Translation: He’s only doing what the people want him to do.

Opponents of immigration reform are organized and tenacious. I know this from my 12 years as a columnist. On many a day, it can feel as if they are speaking for the majority, because they know how to bombard the target of their wrath.

A legislator is elected to lead, not wait for permission.

Drumroll, please, for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who announced Tuesday that Virginia would come through for its dreamers.

“We should welcome these smart, talented, hardworking young people into our economy and society rather than putting a stop sign at the end of 12th grade,” Herring said.

As The Washington Post reported, his announcement made college instantly more affordable for more than 8,000 children who are not — yet — U.S. citizens.

Herring is a Democrat who barely won his election last fall. Nevertheless, there he was, championing all of Virginia’s children.

That’s leadership.

He released this news in English, Spanish, Hindi, Vietnamese and Korean.

That’s the language of America.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine.

©2014 Creators

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