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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT