From: El Organizador
Sent: Sep 21, 2010
Subject: Behind the Latest Version of the DREAM Act: Is This
Legislation We Should Support?
P.O. Box 40009
San Francisco, CA 94140
Behind the Latest Version of the DREAM Act:
Is This Legislation We Should Support?
By ALEJANDRA JUAREZ
"When that [DREAM Act] passes, millions of children will be able to
get the education they need to contribute to our economy," stated
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) during his press conference announcing that he
would include the DREAM Act in the Defense Authorization Bill on
September 21. Almost immediately, Republican leaders came out against
the move in spite of the commonly held belief that the DREAM Act is
bipartisan legislation. "I intend to block it, unless they agree to
remove the onerous provisions," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
While Republicans are accusing Democrats of playing partisan politics
in an effort to maintain their footing this coming November,
mobilizations have been taking place across the nation for months now
in an attempt to get Congress and the Obama administration to pass
Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). Immigrant youth, especially,
have trekked across state lines, protested in congresspersons'
offices, and flooded Congress with letters urging them to pass the
DREAM Act. Called DREAMers, they have come out and risked being
deported in the hope of gaining legal status.
What is the DREAM Act?
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act
has been floating in Congress for nearly a decade now, first
introduced in 2001 as H.R. 1918 and S. 1291 in the House and Senate
respectively. In 2007 Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) filed to place the
DREAM Act as an amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense
Authorization Bill (S. 2919), but it failed to pass. A last-ditch
effort was made later that year by introducing the DREAM Act as a
stand alone bill, nevertheless, the 60 votes required to avoid a
filibuster were not there.
The version now being included as an amendment to the Defense
Authorization Bill by Sen. Reid was introduced in March of 2009 by
senators Durbin (D-IL), Lugar (R-IN), Reid (D- NV), Martinez (R-FL),
Leahy (D-VT), Lieberman (I-CT), Kennedy (D-MA), and Feingold (D-WI).
If passed, the DREAM Act of 2009 would give young undocumented
immigrants from any country of origin who are under 35 years old and
who arrived in the United States before age 16 the opportunity to
gain legal status by either attending college or joining the
military. However, only those who have obtained a high school diploma
or GED and have not left the United States in the last five years are
eligible to gain conditional Legal Permanent Residency (LPR).
Once eligibility has been ascertained, LPR status would be granted on
a conditional basis and valid for six years, during which time the
student would be allowed to work, go to school, or join the military.
After six years, if the person has shown good moral character and
either completed a minimum of two years of higher education toward a
bachelor's degree or higher, or served in the military for two years,
the conditional status would be removed and full LPR would be granted.
With any chance of passing CIR now declared dead by many Democratic
leaders, including President Obama, we are being told the DREAM Act
is Plan B , the only viable proposal for addressing the immigration
issue. Just last week Univision's Jorge Ramos proclaimed that there
will be no legalization for the 11 million undocumented this year.
Nor, perhaps, next year -- nor the next. Senator Reid, himself, said,
"I know we can't do comprehensive immigration reform -- I've tried
to. I've tried so very, very hard."
A Rift Has Developed
But although the DREAM Act has unconditional supporters in the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and other Latino organizations
like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the
National Council of La Raza (NCLR), in particular, a rift has begun
to appear within the movement that has emerged around the DREAM Act.
Community groups like San Diego's Committee Opposed to Militarism and
the Draft (COMD) has opposed the armed forces provision of the DREAM
Act for years. More recently, even the young activists who have
participated in acts of civil disobedience across the country have
not only questioned the military component but the way in which the
Democrats are contributing to the argument that the parents are
criminals who broke the law by crossing the border illegally in an
attempt to provide a better life for their children. "They are
vilifying and criminalizing our parents and [arguing] that
undocumented students shouldn't pay for the sins or illegal behavior
of their parents," wrote Raul Al-qaraz Ochoa, one of the protesters
arrested at Sen. McCain's office in Arizona this summer.
Still, the majority in the movement uncritically supports the DREAM
Act because they believe its passage will benefit millions of young
undocumented immigrants while also serving as a stepping stone for
CIR down the road. If we examine the legislation closely, however,
some issues arise with these arguments.
First, the simple fact that Democrats are attaching the DREAM Act to
the defense bill speaks to its militaristic orientation; the DREAM
Act forms part of the Department of Defense's FY2010-12 Strategic
Plan to help the military shape and maintain a mission-ready All
According to UC San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal, the DREAM Act was
largely developed by the Pentagon. One need only read Senator
Durbin's testimony. It was not about education. It was strictly about
making a pool of young, bilingual, U.S.-educated, high-achieving
students available to the recruiters.
This is further evidenced in the 2009 policy report "Essential to the
Fight: Immigrants in the Military Eight Years After 9/11," authored
by Margaret D. Stock, retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army
Reserve. In it she writes, "Despite the important contributions of
immigrants to the military in the ongoing conflicts, one proposal
that would allow more immigrants to serve in the armed forces [DREAM
Act] has made little headway in the past eight years. ... Because
attending college is a very expensive proposition, ... joining the
armed forces is a likely choice for many of the young people who
would be affected by the bill (p. 8).
Stock concludes, "Without them, the military could not meet its
recruiting goals and could not fill the need for foreign-language
translators, interpreters, and cultural experts. Given the unique and
valuable functions that immigrants often perform in the military,
they are a critical asset to the national defense. Immigrants have
been and continue to be essential to the fight" (p. 11).
At the same time, by attempting to pass the DREAM Act before the
November mid-term elections, Democrats seek to rally support from
Latinos who comprise the largest sector of the immigrant community
and who are a key voting bloc for the Democratic Party.
It was this voting bloc that handed Obama the presidency in 2008,
based largely on the promise that he would deliver CIR during his
first year in office. Having failed to do so -- and, on the contrary,
having increased the repression on the undocumented community through
raids, employer sanctions, and the militarization of the border --
more and more Latinos have grown increasingly discontented with the
It is difficult to imagine a Democratic victory in Congress without
the Latino vote. The Democrats know this and are offering the DREAM
Act as appeasement, claiming there is no political will to pass CIR.
Yet, it took no effort to pass the $600 million border militarization
bill this past August.
Second, according to Sen. Reid and other proponents, passage of the
DREAM Act would benefit millions of undocumented immigrants. Although
it is difficult to know the exact number of undocumented youth in the
United States, the Migration Policy Institute's 2010 study "Dream vs.
Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries" claims
that there are approximately 2.1 million who could potentially be eligible.
However, not all would qualify for LPR status. Only an estimated
825,000, or 38%, would be able to gain full LPR. For those
undocumented youths who do not meet the requirements after the six
years of conditional status there is no guaranteed that they would
not be deported. The legislation also authorizes the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) to share information with other law
Third, the choice of attending an institution of higher learning, as
opposed to joining the military, in order to qualify for LPR is only
feasible for a small number of undocumented youth. For example,
Latinos in general, compared to other ethnic groups have the lowest
number of college attendees -- only 1.9%, compared to 3% for Blacks,
3.8% for whites, and 8.8% for Asians. The national high school
drop-out rate among Latinos is around 40%. In California the drop-out
rate is 36%.
Moreover, a significant percentage of the 1.5 generation coming to
the United States without papers arrive with very little schooling
and come to work to contribute to the family income. These
undocumented youth would not even qualify for conditional LPR status.
The college option of the DREAM Act must also be looked at within the
new higher education framework where the cost of attending college
becomes another barrier. Throughout the country -- and in California
especially -- the tuition or university fees at public universities
have skyrocketed ... a whopping 32% increase at the UCs and CSUs last
year and 54% at community colleges; not to mention the cap
enrollments and repeal of affirmative action also affecting ethnic minorities.
Under the DREAM Act students would not be eligible for federal
financial aid -- only loans and work study. Moreover, the DREAM Act
gives states the prerogative to decide if these students qualify for
in-state tuition (repealing Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration
Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996).
De-Facto Choice to Gain LPR Status
The military option then becomes the de-facto choice to gain LPR
status for most undocumented youth. There are already non-citizens in
the armed service who are seeking citizenship for themselves and
their loved ones through fast track established by former President
Bush in 2002 as part of the War on Terror.
However, as Professor Mariscal points out, the promise of a green
card is not always assured. Military service does not guarantee
citizenship and tragically for those who have given the ultimate
sacrifice, posthumous citizenship [is] a purely symbolic gesture with
no rights or privileges accruing to the deceased person's family.
With the continued occupations in the Middle East and elsewhere, as
well as the increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, it is
very likely that those joining the military under the DREAM Act will
see combat. And although the DREAM Act asks for only two years of
military service, we must be aware that there is no such thing as a
two-year military contract. In 2003 Congress passed the National Call
to Service Plan as part of the Military Appropriations Act. This
mandated that all of the services must create an enlistment program
offering a two-year active duty enlistment option, followed by four
years in the Active Guard/Reserves, followed by two years in the
Inactive Reserves. This is a total of eight years.
If that were not enough, low-income and youth of color tend to see
most of the direct combat. Professor Mariscal writes, "Latinos and
Latinas are bunched together in the private and corporal ranks (or
lowest ranks) and therefore are among the most likely to receive
hazardous duty assignments. ... [In 2001 they] made up 17.7% of the
Infantry, Gun Crews, and Seamanship occupations in all the service
branches. Of those Latinos and Latinas in the Army, 24.7% occupy such
jobs and in the Marine Corps, 19.7%.
It is important to remember that Latinos make up only 13.5% of the
general population. In contrast, in the elite and most highly
romanticized military special operations units such as the Navy
Seals, people of color are virtually non-existent given the stricter
educational admissions criteria.
For a DREAM Act With No Military Strings Attached!
The DREAMers and the movement they have built together with their
allies have fueled the immigrant rights movement in spite of other
setbacks like SB 1070. Undocumented youth are tired of the vast
inequities and limited opportunities afforded to them because of
their citizenship status.
Although the DREAM Act would only benefit a small number of
undocumented immigrant youth, what the DREAMers are fighting for --
the right to education for all, the right to have a job that helps
our families get out of poverty, the right to live without fear of
incarceration and deportation, the right to keep families together --
is the right thing.
All of us in the immigrant rights movement and our allies should
applaud and support their cause and denounce the Democrats for
attempting to usurp the struggle. We should not be asked to assist in
the continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or in any new
militaristic adventures in Latin America, Iran, or elsewhere in order
to obtain papers for our immigrant brothers and sisters. Nor should
we have to subjugate those who look like us in foreign lands or on the border.
We in the immigrant community are not discouraged by the lack of
political will in Washington. We will continue to fight for a new and
just immigration policy based on human and workers' rights.
More than ever, it is necessary to (re)build an independent mass
movement for legalization. It will take huge mobilizations and
strikes like those that took place in the spring of 2006 to force the
ruling elite to grant our just demands.
We must champion the DREAMers movement -- that is, a real DREAM Act
without any militaristic strings attached -- while also calling for:
- No to the militarization of the border; tear down the Wall of Shame!
- Stop the raids and deportations!
- No to the E-Verify Law and to the criminalization of immigrant workers!
- No to Guest Worker Programs!
- No to the separation of immigrant families!
- Repeal the "Free Trade" and Military pacts in Latin America
(including the dismantling of all U.S.
military bases in the region)!
As immigrant rights activist Raul Al-qaraz Ochoa aptly wrote, "Strong
movements that achieve greater victories are those that stand in
solidarity with all oppressed people of the world."