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Should We Oppose the DREAM Act Due to the Military Provision?

It is time for a revisit.

In light of the DREAM Act 5 action in Arizona, several allies and ‘immigration rights advocates’ have raised some crucial points that hinder progressive support for the DREAM Act—points that several activist students have had to encounter in the form of artless dissent from leftist intellectuals and liberals.

We are talking about dissenters like the Association of La Raza Educators, Immigrant Solidarity Network, American Friends and Service Committee, a few Latino immigrant rights activists, and even the National Lawyers Guild that refuses to take a stance on the DREAM Act. Why? They dislike the military provision in the DREAM Act that could make certain ethnic minority students such as Latino kids in the barrios more susceptible to recruitment by military officials. This is not a moot point – it is a cause for concern but it requires several hundred grams of historicizing and perspective.

First, let us clear the misinformation circulating about the DREAM Act in the progressive sphere.

  1. No one is forced into joining the military due to the DREAM Act
  2. The new version of the DREAM Act allows for federal work study and repeals the 1996 provision that bars states from providing tuition equity and aide for students.
  3. Conditional residency comes with the same rights and privileges as legal green-card residency that is re-evaluated after 6 years and contingent on the completion of these two requirements:
  • Get a GED and finish two years of college within 6 years OR
  • Join the military

For any conscientious individual, enlisting in a military that fights wars for corporate profit and greed is simply unacceptable. But that is hardly any reason to oppose the DREAM Act.

First, there is already a perpetual war against immigrant youth here at home:

Unauthorized migrant youth are already fighting a war here in the U.S. The war is the product of a targeted campaign by nativist groups that they call “attrition through enforcement.” I encourage you to look it up. Attrition through enforcement means they want to make life so miserable for unauthorized migrants that they leave on their own . They want to make life more miserable than the horrible conditions migrants are fleeing from. And let me tell you, they are succeeding.

- Citizen Orange

Overseas, we are destroying families, communities, killing innocent children, deferring their dreams permanently through a “war against terrorism” and at home we are killing the spirit and dreams of our undocumented immigrant youth by deporting them while destroying families and local economies in ICE raids. Even the beneficiaries of both wars are a similar prototype: CORPORATIONS. While big oil and security companies stand to gain most from the new spaces of neo-liberal globalization created by waging war against sovereign peoples, corrections and security companiesalso make big moolah with the creation of new spaces of detention. Why create a binary between the two wars? They are both part of United States policy.

Opposing the DREAM Act because one opposes the military draft misses another crucial point. Dissenters often claim in their silly online rants that the act is ‘anti-Mexican American’ because this is the population most susceptible and likely to not make it to college and be drafted by the military. It is true that overall only 1 out of 20 Latino students attend college and the rest may be open to exploitation but that is due to limited options, lack of affordability, and the hopelessness of being undocumented. To borrow from Duke at Migra Matters:

Would the prospect that with an education comes not only legal status but opportunities long denied, have a long term positive effect on educational performance? I think the answer would of course be yes. Would DREAM overnight change failing schools into success stories, or overcome years of government and societal neglect…of course not. But it would for the first time make an education pay off for a population that has not really benefited from one before. This would be an enormous paradigm shift.

Why not work to give the 19 other students help and resources to attend college instead of opposing the opportunity altogether? Why not provide scholarship funds and resources for them instead of shutting the doors on educational access? The DREAM Act provides students with hope that there is something beyond high school and it also contains provisions for higher education assistance. In an unreleased study of the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, high school dropout rates for California (a state that provides in-state tuition to undocumented students in college) and North Carolina (a state that bans undocumented students from attending college) were compared and the numbers revealed something hardly surprising: high school graduation rates for immigrant students, especially Latinos, had increased in California despite cutbacks in education whereas the reverse was true in North Carolina. Clearly, providing opportunities for higher education is one way of ensuring that we do not create a permanent underclass of uneducated immigrant youth in our country.

Without a foreseeable future, many undocumented immigrant youth are more susceptible to drop out of school before finishing high school. If there are no opportunities for a child after high school, how does one expect that child to be motivated to continue their education? Once they realize that all doors and windows of opportunity are closed to them, undocumented students find themselves stuck in neutral: unable to move forward of their own volition and too often reminded of the past that created the situation. Can we then claim that opposing an educational opportunity such as the DREAM Act is precisely what creates conditions for military recruitment? You bet.

Undocumented students are joining the military right now, putting themselves at risk of death and deportation, just to get legalized since going to college does not give them that option. A backdoor draft for undocumented immigrant youth already exists because there aren’t enough opportunities for legalization such as H-I-G-H-E-R E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N. In effect, opposing the DREAM Act means putting the lives of countless students at risk. So much for opposing militarization–It’s not like opposing the DREAM Act won’t end the military-industrial complex or wars for profit.

On a historical note, does anyone remember the debacle of the Equal Rights Amendment for women which only stipulated that equal rights under any federal, state or local law could not be denied on the basis of sex? The proposed amendment failed to pass in 1982 not due to widespread sexism, but due to conservative women, anti-abortion politicians and feminists with anti-military roots who feared and purported that giving equal rights to women would leave them more vulnerable to a military draft. Hence, this country did not approve a constitutional amendment for equal rights for women. In hindsight, that is despicable and we must ensure that the same does not happen to immigrant youth as we fight for our own civil right to exist in the only country we call our home.

That said, it does not matter that these progressives are unable to find undocumented students that openly oppose the DREAM Act on their own accord they would rather adjudicate about our civil rights from their own places of power and privilege. 715,000 undocumented students aged 5 to 17 could be inspired by the DREAM act to finish high school. Instead of supporting a bill that serves as a tool of empowerment and encouragement or fighting against militarization after the bill is passed, our progressive friends would rather condemn ALL immigrant youth to a permanent underclass of poverty and despair. Congratulations, you are a real “progressive.”

For many immigrant youth struggling through school and life, this is offensive and backstabbing behavior. How can anyone sit in the safety and comfort of their privilege and tell us that most of us cannot go to college because others might have to join the military? How can someone profess to stand for immigrant rights when they do not want to enable immigrant youth to work and earn resources for immigrant communities? How does an immigrant rights activist oppose the DREAM Act when it is the litmus test for any comprehensive bill? Why oppose a legislation that challenges the homogenous view of all migrants as criminals, law-breakers and a drain to society — a problem that plagues immigration debate in this country?

Dissenters would call us ‘Me-First’ and trumpet their ‘Legalization For All’ in all-caps much like nativists. Great, call Congress as Matias suggests here and fight for just and humane immigration reform. If we cannot pass the DREAM Act, we cannot possibly conceive of getting any sort of just and humane immigration reform passed. That is why the pro-enforcement nativists clamor against the moderate, bipartisan DREAM Act—they know giving in to immigrant youth means empowering a whole new generation of promigrant activism and setting the stage for the passage of more comprehensive bills. THAT is their real nightmare. Therefore, finding oneself aligned with Michelle Malkins and Faux News is hardly a sign of progressivism and change.

This is political but ultimately, it is also personal. An undocumented student, Maria, tells us that:

When a person is given one shot at something that they have been denied all their life, that one person will not take such an opportunity for granted. A perfect example would be when African Americans were not allowed to attend the same schools as whites, and instead of giving up, they fought hard for that chance that they knew they deserved. Years later, we are in the 21st century where the first African American president has been elected. This would not have been possible had African Americans not fought for what they deserved, and had they not been given a chance. Therefore, it is my firm belief that if undocumented students were to be given that same opportunity, other smart, driven, and successful leaders would emerge.

The million dollar question for the progressive dissenters: Are we going to let immigrant youth lead and support each other with hope or try and squash them from a position of privilege out of fear of unknown hypotheticals?

And what about youth that do want to serve in the military? How does one look Noe Guzman and Pablo in the eye and tell them “Sorry, we don’t support your right to citizenship because you want to join the armed forces? It doesn’t matter if you are willing to serve in the military and die for this country. That should not give you citizenship.”

There is something that these “immigrant rights advocates” can do and the suggestion comes from Citizen Orange once again:

The DREAM Act originally included a third path to citizenship for unauthorized migrant youth. There used to be a community service provision in the DREAM Act. During the campaign, those of us at The Sanctuary were able to get Barack Obama to reaffirm his support for the community service provision of the DREAM Act.

The Sanctuary: Do you support the community service requirement of previous DREAM Act legislation that would grant provisional (conditional) legal status to immigrant graduates who perform 910 hours of community service?
Barack Obama: Yes.

The Sanctuary (18 September 2008)

Those who are skeptical of the military provision of the DREAM Act should push for the community service provision of the DREAM Act. To oppose it outright though is unfair to unauthorized migrant youth that have so much activism and hope invested in the DREAM Act.

We already have to battle it out with nativists and with our life circumstances. We do not want to be fighting with our friends and allies too. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.