Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

If I offended demanding DREAMers, I'm not sorry

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 8:44 AM EST, Fri December 28, 2012
DREAM Act aspirants at a news conference in Los Angeles in August.
DREAM Act aspirants at a news conference in Los Angeles in August.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: In my previous column I scolded a faction of the DREAMers
  • Navarrette said they have a sense of entitlement, and many readers feel the same, he says
  • Many readers were offended, including his wife, says Navarrette
  • He says he was talking about people succumbing to a counterproductive radicalism

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

San Diego (CNN) -- Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong.

All I know is that my wife is angry.

"You need to fix this!" she says, as she holds up her smartphone.

On the screen is a copy of my latest column for CNN.com scolding a faction of the DREAMers, the undocumented youth angling for legal status, for what I -- and judging from the response, quite a few other Americans -- see as a sense of entitlement.

"I hated this column," she said. "I know what you were trying to say, because I know you. But other people won't understand it. They're confused and angry, and they should be. I get your point. You're saying that these kids have become entitled and self-important like other kids and they're going to blow it for everyone else -- including their undocumented parents. But that's not what you walk away from this column with. What you walk way with is meanness. And that's not you."

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bah humbug. Sometimes, it is me. As I often tell audiences that gather for my speeches, constantly cheerful and positive writers work for Hallmark.

And yet, I notice that many of my critics on the left who think the tone of the DREAMer piece was harsh didn't object when, in the past, I lashed out in a similar tone against those on the right.

When voters turned out Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the major sponsor of that state's dreadful immigration law, I wrote that "evil has left the building." When Mitt Romney was overheard telling donors that he'd have a better shot at winning the presidential election if he were Latino, I mocked the Republican candidate for "playing the victim" because he had the "misfortune to be born a white male." In another column, after Romney blamed his defeat on minorities who were hungry for giveaways, I called him a "loser." And, when writing about the intersection of immigration and politics, I have had no trouble saying that the GOP brand is toxic to Latinos because the party has chosen to "pander to racists and nativists."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Every time, conservatives were upset, but -- on Facebook and other social media -- liberals applauded. Could it be that what really troubles people isn't the tone of a particular column but who is being skewered?

Still, as a Mexican immigrant herself, my wife has a point. And so do many of my critics.

In the offending column, I was not trying to describe the individual lives of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented high school and college students in the United States. Everyone is different. I was talking about a movement, a political strategy that involves DREAMers demanding what they see as their "rights" and, in the process, succumbing to a radicalism that is counterproductive and threatens to torpedo immigration reform for millions of others.

Like the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than ... by donning a cap and gown and occupying the office of a member of Congress until you're arrested. Or something like that.

But people didn't hear that message. They drew upon their own frame of reference and, thinking back to DREAMers they know, declared that they were swell folks who were humble and idealistic and didn't feel entitled. So, they said, I must be wrong.

Ironically, some of those who reacted angrily to the column wound up making its point.

One reader, who identified himself as a DREAMer who has lived in the United States for 11 years, insisted that he and his cohort weren't making demands. Then he added: "Speaking for myself ... at this point I am done asking. I demand to be fully incorporated into this society."

Now there's a lack of self-awareness.

Yet, that's also a good trait for columnists, who can always say things better and clearer. So let's try this again. For those undocumented youth who think that America owes them a fulfillment of their dreams, or who -- like the reader -- demand to be fully "incorporated into this society," that first column was for you. And the scolding fits.

But for the rest of you who work hard and obey the law and keep your head down and just want to find a way to live legally in a country you consider your own and where you've lived most of your life, let me first apologize for lumping you together with the demanders. Then let me give you some friendly advice:

-- Think critically. It's not enough to have beliefs. You have to constantly challenge yourselves so you know why you believe it, and can defend it. Because someday, you'll have to do so;

-- Privileges are not rights, and so they are earned and not granted by our creator. If Congress gives you the privilege of legal status, you need to decide what you're prepared to give in return. You need a plan, and a demand is not a plan;

-- Focus on deeds not words, and admit that neither political party has been courageous or honest on immigration. So don't feel beholden to either. Power comes from exercising options. Shop around;

(Last week, the Obama administration released figures showing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement broke its own record for total number of deportations. The agency removed 409,849 illegal immigrants in the 2012 fiscal year, compared to 396,906 in the 2011 fiscal year and 392,000 in the 2010 fiscal year. As most DREAMers would agree, those numbers are nothing to be proud of, especially since they appear to be driven by politics.)

-- Challenge your friends with the same amount of enthusiasm that you challenge your foes. After all, in the world of politics and beyond, those you support owe you something for standing by them. Make sure you collect; and

-- Accept that, while it's true that you did nothing wrong when you were brought here as a child, someone along the line, someone in your family tree broke a law. They crossed a border without permission, or overstayed a visa. Deal with it. Before we can legalize your status, you have to accept the wrong that was done and someone has to make amends for it -- if not you, then the person who broke the rules.

Above all, always try to be better people who strive for fairness, listen to different points of view, and take responsibility for your words and deeds. And I'll do the same.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT