Marco Rubio's "Belly-Flop" on the DREAM Act: A Modern 3/5 Compromise?


Posted 4/1/12

Whether it's to prepare Senator Marco Rubio for the national spotlight as Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee, or for a potential future run for president himself, Republicans know they have a big problem courting Latinos--a voting bloc Time Magazine recently predicted could decide the next presidential election. From former-California Governor Pete Wilson's support for the infamous state ballot measure Prop 187 in 1994, to House Republicans' passage of the draconian 2005 "Sensenbrenner Bill" (which sparked the largest protests in U.S. history), the GOP has consistently demonstrated that it is overtly hostile to Latinos.

Their potential solution to this electoral quagmire includes adding Rubio on the presidential ticket and expecting Latinos to forget about the past and vote for the GOP because one of their candidates has a Spanish surname. This logic is not only condescending--it's insulting. More than confusing Latino voters into thinking that Republicans are their allies, this demonstrates the GOP's ignorance of the distinctions between traditionally conservative Cuban-Americans (who make up only 3.5% of all Latinos) and the rest of the Latino population, about 72% of whom voted Democrat during the last presidential election. The best example of these differences is Rubio himself.

The same week that the Cuban-American Senator endorsed Romney--perhaps the biggest "flip-flopper" in Republican presidential primary history (for some reminders checkout this YouTube video)--Rubio also performed one of the biggest "belly-flops" of his career, stating that he's working on an alternative version of the DREAM Act that would "offer legal status without a pathway to citizenship." Rubio's version is such a far cry from the original DREAM Act that last week a New York Times editorial called it, "A Dream Act Without the Dream."

Since the junior senator from Florida has never supported the federal DREAM Act, this isn't a Romney-style "flip-flop." This is a flat-out "belly-flop," because Rubio is attempting to retain his hard-line stance against a bill that would benefit thousands of undocumented Latino youth, while at the same time creating an opportunity to later deceive Latino voters by claiming that he "technically" has supported a version of the legislation. Reporting on this latest GOP movida [slick move], The Hill succinctly explains the motivations behind these actions: "Senate Republicans want to alter DREAM Act legislation to steal away Hispanic voters from Democrats."

Despite Rubio's support for Arizona's racist "papers please law" (which most Latinos across the country opposed) and standing against the legalization of undocumented immigrants (which more than 85% of Latinos nationwide support), his position on the DREAM Act is particularly important to note because not only do 90% of Latinos in the U.S. support the bill, but so do 78% of Latino voters in Florida, and even 74% of Cubans.

As it stands, the DREAM Act is already a center-right compromise, with the only options to become merely eligible for citizenship being military service or attending college. These provisions mean that undocumented youth (who would first have to pass another series of criteria to qualify for the bill) would have to fulfill requirements for citizenship that the vast majority of U.S.-born Americans themselves wouldn't be able to meet.

For example, only 9% of American adults have an associate's degree, just 19% have a bachelor's degree, and less than 11% have graduate degrees. With regards to military service, "During this decade of sustained warfare, only about 0.5% of the American public has been on active duty at any given time." Moreover, the fact that Latino college achievement is about half of the national average means that most undocumented kids would likely choose the DREAM Act's armed services option, creating what some immigrant youth have criticized as being a "de facto military draft."

In short, Rubio's plan to gut the dream from the DREAM Act wouldn't lead to a peaceful night's sleep for these kids. It would cause the nightmare of what would amount to a modern day version of the "3/5 Clause" where part of our population would be seen as only "three-fifths" of human beings who were counted for the purposes of taxes and allocating members of Congress to the districts where they lived, but who were not allowed to vote or have a say in the laws that govern them. If Rubio--the "Crown Prince" of the Tea Party--gets his way, undocumented youth would continue to contribute their talents, skills, and labor to our nation, but remain deportable and endure a life of taxation without representation. Unfortunately for Republicans, Latinos know the difference between a dream and a nightmare. Most of us also know that Rubio's "alternative" DREAM Act and his selection as a vice presidential candidate would be the latter.