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Commentary: Plot twist on the Dream Act's demise in Congress

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opinion Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SAN DIEGO -- The Senate works just like any crime drama. First comes the murder. Then comes the cover-up intended to throw sleuths off the trail.

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So, who really killed the Dream Act?

The liberal media, immigrant advocacy groups and Latino Democrats assure us it was the Senate Republicans. Case closed. It's a narrative that is easy to swallow for several reasons.

First, there were the numbers. Forty-one Republicans voted against cloture, thus keeping the bill from advancing to the full Senate. Only Robert Bennett of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Richard Lugar of Indiana favored moving forward. Fifty Democrats and two independents voted for cloture. Four senators -- three Republicans, and one Democrat -- didn't vote.

Second, there was the nastiness. While most Senate Republicans were careful not to say anything inflammatory about the bill, they caught some of the blame from what happened in the House, where Republicans called the bill an unfair giveaway to illegal immigrants. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who has a knack for playing racial politics, went over the top when he urged colleagues to oppose an "affirmative action amnesty."

(In truth, the Dream Act was no giveaway. It was give and take. It offered "conditional permanent residency" to young people brought to the U.S. illegally as minors by their parents if they went to college or into the military.)

And third, there was the nonsense. In opposing the Dream Act, Republicans betrayed their principles. Remember when the GOP used to believe in taking responsibility for one's actions and not getting something for nothing? That's the Dream Act. Illegal immigrant students had to step forward and take responsibility for being in the United States unlawfully. And they would not have gotten something for nothing since, in order to qualify for residency, they had to go to college or join the military.

So basically, you had a bunch of Republicans acting like loudmouthed jerks and hypocrites on the immigration issue. What else is new? That's not enough to sink a piece of legislation when you're in the minority in the Senate. Not when you lose three from your caucus to the other side and they're joined by two independents. Not when Democrats needed 60 votes for cloture, and you didn't have the votes to prevent it.

If you're looking for who killed the Dream Act, Republicans have an airtight alibi: They may be obnoxious, coldhearted, shortsighted and too wedded to xenophobic elements in the GOP base. But they're also small enough in number as to be completely irrelevant to this debate.

Who are the real culprits? Elementary, my dear Watson.

Who has been stringing along immigration reform advocates with promises to fix a broken system that somehow never gets fixed? Democrats. Who controls the White House and both houses of Congress and has for the last two years? Democrats. Who's controlled Congress for the last four years, the first two under George W. Bush, who supported immigration reform? Democrats. Which party is deathly afraid of being seen as soft on illegal immigration and consistently has its most vulnerable members trying to strengthen their credentials in this regard by opposing even sensible pieces of reform legislation? Democrats.

And, most importantly, which party denied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the five votes he needed for cloture on the Dream Act? Democrats. Forget all the huffing and puffing from Republicans. The key to the demise of the Dream Act are those five Democratic defectors -- Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

You're telling me that Reid doesn't have the power to twist arms, offer incentives or make threats to get five measly votes? Or that President Obama, if he were so inclined, couldn't do the same? They did a good job of rustling up strays during the health care debate. But then, there was an issue that Democratic leaders actually cared about.

Amazingly, when asked who killed the Dream Act, even with all the evidence pointing to Democrats, some on the left -- including many Latinos -- still instinctively blame Republicans.

It's no wonder Latinos get no respect from either party. They feel wounded over the demise of the Dream Act, and now they're threatening payback.

I'm so glad to hear it. But how are they going to know whom to pay back if they don't pay attention?

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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