House GOP: We'll legalize "DREAMers" if border gets secured first

House Republicans have steered clear of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill and its approach, pledging to proceed in steps to overhauling the nation’s immigration system instead.  Democrats have been using that strategy as a way to paint the GOP as callous and unconcerned (at the least) about immigrants, especially their children.  National Journal reports that Eric Cantor will try to turn the tables on that argument, daring Democrats to support border security in exchange for legalization of minors:

An emerging coalition of House Republicans is arguing that young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children constitute “a special protected class” that should eventually be eligible for citizenship, an approach they say combines sound policy with smart politics. …

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is the driving force behind the strategy to focus on legalizing undocumented youths. According to Republican aides, passing such a bill would equip Republicans with a reasonable answer to the question of what to do with the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. It would also force Democrats into a political lose-lose: Either endorse a GOP proposal that legalizes so-called “Dreamers” or oppose this longtime policy goal and hold out for blanket legalization for the entire undocumented community.

As one House leadership aide framed it, “How can they say no to the kids?”

Cantor’s push, which has the blessing of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is also endorsed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and several influential conservatives such as Reps. Raul Labrador of Idaho and Jim Jordan of Ohio. It’s still early—Cantor and company have yet to release any legislative language—but lawmakers predict that such a measure will garner majority support in the oft-fractured House Republican Conference.

That would turn the calculus back onto the Democrats.  Polls show that Americans back a path to citizenship anyway, but have much more sympathy for children whose only crime was that their parents carried them into the country.  Polls have definitely shown that Americans want border security addressed as the priority in reform, even if they prefer a comprehensive approach rather than piecemeal.  Such an offer would combine the most popular parts of the plans floating around Washington for most of the last decade, and force the Democrats instead of the Republicans to decide between children and their political hobby horses.

That is, it will — if Cantor and Boehner can get enough Republican votes to force Democrats to choose.  So far, the strategy seems to be gaining ground, at least since this weekend.  Trey Gowdy, who would normally be considered a tough vote, pointed out at a hearing this week that our law treats children as a different class in other ways, too — and that minors brought by parents “have not committed a crime,” a key position for those opposed to any form of amnesty for border violators.  Ted Poe (R-TX) emphasized that children did not have the determination to act illegally, and “therefore, they should be treated in a special way.”

This all hinges on the border-security package developed by the House, of course.  The Corker-Hoeven amendment turned out to be Swiss cheese in practice, and the White House made the issue all but moot by declaring that it could ignore statutes in ObamaCare that specifically had to do with mandates and triggers.  Unless the House comes up with a tougher border security package and a way to ensure that the Obama administration has no choice but to fund it — perhaps by holding up the DREAMer funding until specific metrics are met, especially on a border fence — then this is probably all academic anyway.  But at least Republicans may force Democrats to “say no to the kids,” and get rid of that noxious talking point for a while.