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No, Eric Holder, The Dreamers Aren’t Americans. That’s The Point


Yesterday former attorney general Eric Holder emerged from whatever half-lit Sicilian restaurant in which he currently practices law to lecture Americans about our immigration system.

“Our nation’s sense of morality—and of itself—is once again being tested,” he wrote in the Washington Post, accusing President Donald Trump of “turning away from the principles that indeed made America great” by repealing President Obama’s executive order allowing the children of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. “If we are to remain true to our heritage and who we claim to be,” Holder writes, “we must stand with the dreamers.”

It is an irony for the ages: Eric Holder has no problem shipping illegal firearms across the Mexican border, but he positively cannot fathom doing the same thing to illegal immigrants.

Dreamers Are Not Citizens, Or We Wouldn’t Be Talking

In truth, the question of what to do with the children of illegal immigrants—the so-called “dreamers”—is a difficult one, insofar as those children are illegal immigrants themselves through no fault of their own, and we might consider whether it makes moral sense, at the very least, to ship them back to countries which they may barely know. This is a question on which Congress should spend considerable and careful time.

But Eric Holder nevertheless gets it wrong, as he is wont to do. “I’m calling on all Americans to see and treat dreamers as our own,” he writes, “because they are our own.” These individuals “should not be defined by their immigration status,” he claims. He quotes President Obama, who says that the dreamers are Americans “in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”

Well, gee, thanks for pointing out the obvious, professor.

Indeed, Obama gets it right: the dreamers are not Americans “on paper,” and so in that one profoundly critical way they are not Americans at all. That was the point of DACA in the first place: to offer deferred deportation to non-Americans. Natural-born and naturalized citizens of the United States were not the ones who took advantage of Obama’s executive order: it was illegal immigrants, non-citizens, that did so. It is not Trump who “defined them by their immigration status.” It was Obama.

Citizenship Matters, Whether We Like It Or Not 

It is grating to have to point this out, though the deficiencies of our immigration debate tend to make it necessary to do so. We are, after all, a nation; as a nation we are composed primarily of a body politic made up of citizens. There are a great many among us who desire, in various incoherent ways, to do away with such distinctions—people who believe that simply arriving here, through whatever means, should qualify one for citizenship. Such a policy would essentially do away with the idea of citizenship altogether, rendering our country’s immigration policy to be the legislative equivalent of John Lennon’s turgid “Imagine.”

We are not, as a rule, obliged to seriously consider such college-freshman proposals regarding serious and important domestic policy. But the question of citizenship is nonetheless a profoundly vital one, and the way we respond to the problem of the dreamers is of profound import.

There are good reasons for providing them a path to citizenship. But, much as it might pain Mark Zuckerberg to admit it, there are good reasons for deporting them, as well—chief among them the question of whether or not, as a matter of national policy, we want to incentivize and reward making immigrant children into emotional and political hostages. The illegal immigrant children of illegal immigrants are not, in the traditional moral sense, criminals, and should not be morally seen as such—but they are, nevertheless, inhabiting the United States actus reus, in the status of criminals if not the intent.

The intent, of course, is a critical component of our law—and in crafting a permanent solution to Barack Obama’s flimsy executive order, our lawmakers should give careful consideration to the fact that the dreamers did not intend to break the law when they came here with their parents. Just the same, the idea that these young men and women “should not be defined by their immigration status” is a fallacy, and a dangerous one at that. We are all, in the eyes of the law, “defined by our immigration status.” The dreamers are no different, nor should they be.