SAN DIEGO -- Everyone tells whoppers about the Dreamers. The lies -- about these undocumented young people brought to the United States as children -- come from both right and left. One side paints Dreamers as greedy takers; the other side sees them as selfless givers. Neither sketch is accurate.
Conservatives say that giving "amnesty" to Dreamers will bankrupt the country because the high-achievers will go on welfare. Liberals insist Dreamers aren't asking for handouts and that, in fact, they don't want or need much of anything.
If you believe either of these yarns, I've got a good story about a portly white-bearded fellow who delivers presents.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., recently took to Twitter to defend Dreamers -- 800,000 of whom are worried about being deported now that President Trump has repealed the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Meng tweeted: "All Dreamers want is the opportunity to learn, work & live in the only country they have ever known."
Sorry, Congresswoman. That's not true. Dreamers want much more than just the chance to learn, work and live in the United States.
-- They want to march and protest and petition the U.S. government with their grievances, because many of them think that the Latino civil rights movement began with their arrival.
-- They want the right to remain in the United States legally for the rest of their lives, preferably as U.S. citizens with all the protections and privileges that come with the title.
-- They want to go to the best colleges and universities that they can get into, and avail themselves of scholarships paid for by public tax dollars. That's fair. After all, some of those tax dollars were paid by their parents who, while undocumented, still ponied up plenty of taxes - sales, property, even income. Tax collectors don't discriminate.
-- Dreamers want the right to vote so they can help choose the representatives of their adopted country, while rewarding friends and punishing enemies.
-- They want to hold both parties accountable and put to rest the naive assumption of many immigrant advocates that all Democrats want to help them and all Republicans want to harm them. Bully for them. These young immigrants could teach the native-born a thing or two.
-- Dreamers want a voice so they can influence politics and shape the public dialogue in order to make the United States more welcoming to immigrants, both legal and illegal.
-- They want to be singled out so they can continue to feel special about themselves and what they've already accomplished or may still achieve somewhere down the road.
-- But, at the same time, they also want not to be singled out from their families -- especially their parents, who have worked long hours at hard jobs to give them these opportunities.
-- So Dreamers want a bonus, namely additional legal status for their parents, so that the elders can likewise live out the rest of their days without fear of deportation.
That's a reasonable ask. And it's better than the alternative, namely legal status for Dreamers but nothing for the rest of the family, who presumably had dreams of their own before they had to go to work to fund the aspirations of others. Besides, accommodating only those who go to college is an ugly form of elitism that plays into the simplistic narrative -- advanced by Democrats and Republicans alike -- of good immigrants and bad immigrants.
But, it's been my experience in dealing with Dreamers over the last decade that what they want most of all is to be part of the program. They want to vote, sit on juries, and join the Rotary Club. They want to participate in all facets of civic life. They want to work hard, pay taxes and give something back to the country that gave their families a second chance at life. They want to show everyone that they need not be feared, and that they're an asset not a liability. Simply put, they want to be Americans-in-full. For that, we should be grateful.
At a time when our collective work ethic has diminished and a sense of entitlement is the new normal, Americans have it wrong. Instead of wondering what to do with the Dreamers, they should be figuring out how to make their own kids more like them.