If the latest twist in the debate over American immigration sounds familiar, maybe that’s because it is. Or certainly should be by now. This debate has been going on since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and proceeded to disturb the already uneasy balance of the continent’s population.
Now we’re told that the country’s dealmaker-in-chief is reversing course once again and is ready to open a path to citizenship for some 1.8 million undocumented young immigrants. These dreamers were brought to these shores as children too young to know exactly what was going on. But now they’re to be allowed to take the first steps toward full-fledged citizenship and see their decades-old dream fulfilled. O happy day! Kind of. Let’s wait and see how it all works out, if it ever does.
Tom Cotton, who is Arkansas’ junior senator but already a senior statesman, is falling in step with the president after having opposed letting more migrants into the country because they already have family here. Now he says the “president’s framework is generous and humane, while also being responsible. It protects those eligible for DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], who are here through no fault of their own. But it also will prevent us from ending up back here in five years by securing the border and putting an end to extended-family chain migration. The president’s willingness to grandfather everyone in the current immigrant backlog also shows he’s serious about reaching a bipartisan solution.”
There’s something in this mystery package for everyone in general to celebrate, which means that, when this bag full of goodies finally unwraps, including all the parts that contradict each other, there may be nothing specific to celebrate. It’s like a set of Russian nesting dolls. Open one doll to find another smaller one within. Till you open the final doll and there’s nothing inside.
There’s a phrase for designing such a political grab bag out of the most diverse elements: It’s called being all things to all people. At last reversible report, the president’s latest turnaround was getting rave reviews all around, except from members of the opposition who seem to live only to oppose. For even the widest net — especially the widest of nets — may be too loose to capture the biggest of fish, and when raised may come up full of seaweed and general detritus. Wanna bet that, five years from now, the country will find itself on the same square of this familiar board game, not having passed Go, not having resolved any of the fundamental questions of immigration and ready for another roll of the dice?
The odds are good that this play will just continue with a new cast of characters playing the same roles. And so this repertory theater will revive the same old production. There’ll be no need to change any of the props. A dedicated theatergoer could predict the standard reviews from the standard critics by their past judgments.
The more this performance changes, the more it stays the same. There are no surprises, only repetitions. The pressure groups have all got their lines down pat by now. All they need do is pull one of last year’s press releases off the shelf and unroll it. Even those who say they’re reserving judgment don’t, but instead just put out another fill-in-the-blanks statement they might as well have had around for ages.
“We cannot celebrate this announcement as a victory,” the spoilsports with the Arkansas United Community Coalition intone, “because there is still an uphill battle ahead in Congress. And ultimately we will remain vigilant and await the details of what the White House sends to the Senate on Monday to ensure that no money goes to enhancing the deportation machinery of Dreamers and their families, and that Dreamers do not become second class citizens through this process or be forced to make impossible choices between their future or that of their families.”
So stay tuned, same time, same station, same script five years from now. Tune in then, Gentle Reader, if you can stand to.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.