Editorial: Republicans can still embrace DREAM Act

After a depressing two years in which Arizona and South Carolina passed draconian anti-immigrant laws — and Republican presidential candidates missed nary an opportunity to back their hardline stances — comes some hope for bipartisan progress.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of his party's rising stars, a man thought to be a contender to become Mitt Romney's running mate, is working on a proposal billed as "DREAM Act 2.0."

And Romney, pivoting into a general election mode in which the Latino vote will be critical to victory, has made clear he's all ears.

Though still in the drafting phase, outlines of Rubio's legislation are coming into focus. Critically, it would give the estimated 1.1 million people brought to this country as children — making them illegal through no fault of their own — the ability to stay without fear of deportation.

Those serving honorably in the military would be eligible for green cards; those who complete an education would get temporary, renewable legal status enabling them to work, drive and live normal lives.

For most, obtaining a green card, much less citizenship, would still be a headache — they'd be on their own, made to go through the expensive and byzantine process with the help of a prospective employer, marriage or family ties.

This, we must be clear, is far inferior policy to the original DREAM Act, which aimed to put those who finish two years of college or military service on a relative glidepath to permanent residency and then citizenship.

Thanks to GOP opposition — Republicans cynically tagged the provisions "amnesty" — that bill is dead in the water.

So the pragmatist's choice is between paralysis and progress. And now, finally, Republicans have opened the door a crack. Funny how poll numbers can focus the mind.

"We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party," Romney told donors at a private fund-raiser in Florida last week.

Cynical? Maybe. We'll take it. It was, after all, with more than a hint of political expediency that Democrats came around to welfare reform in the 1990s.

Despite all its flaws, the emerging compromise is far more humane than the current system, as well as far better for the American economy — which needs the talent and energy of all the young immigrants it can get.

Let this mark the beginning of a broader awakening, one that leads finally to comprehensive immigration reform, including the distribution of more H1-B visas for highly skilled workers.

Ultimately, the U.S. must offer an avenue to legal status and citizenship to the 10 million undocumented men and women who contribute daily to American society.

Romney, Rubio and the Republicans may not realize that today, but it's not too late for them to start coming around.

— New York Daily News

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