Lugar had a DREAM, but not anymore

Less than two months ago, Sen. Dick Lugar (R) of Indiana was still touting his support for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), and with good cause.

Every year, tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants graduate from American high schools, but are quickly stuck — they can’t qualify for college aid, and they can’t work legally. America is the only home they’ve ever known — in most cases, they were, at a very young age, brought into the country illegally by their parents — but at 18, they have few options.

The DREAM Act, which has traditionally enjoyed strong bipartisan support, provides a path to citizenship for these young immigrants — graduate from high school, get conditional permanent residency status, go to college or serve in the military, and become eligible for citizenship.

In late March, Lugar, one of the strongest Republican supporters of the bill, not only boasted about being a co-sponsor of the measure, but said he hoped it will actually pass this year.

And then he got a primary challenger.

As the politics of the 2012 election heat up, GOP Sen. Richard Lugar declined today to join Democrats in reintroducing an immigration measure he’s long supported.

Lugar has for years co-sponsored with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a bill to let illegal immigrants who grew up in the United States earn legal status through college or the military.

But Lugar, who is facing challenges from both a Republican and a moderate Democrat in his bid for a seventh term, did not sign onto the latest introduction of the legislation, announced today by Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Lugar’s spokesperson said the senator is no longer supporting the bill he helped write because Democrats “politicized” the issue. I’m not sure what that means.

In the bigger picture, though, I’m not sure whether to be angry about Lugar’s DREAM Act flip-flop or to feel sorry for him. The senator wants to do the right thing, and understands how worthwhile the legislation would be, but suddenly can’t be responsible because right-wing activists in his home state will kick him out of work unless he panders to them shamelessly.

We’re starting to see the same thing with Olympia Snowe (R) in Maine, who’s moving to the right, and Orrin Hatch (R) in Utah, who’s already dropped his strong support for the DREAM Act and is quickly becoming one of the institution’s most buffoonish hacks. Both are facing credible primaries, and so both have given up their decency.

Now, we see Lugar starting to do the same thing. It’s quite sad.