The DREAM Acts military option

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An open letter to Latino and Latina students and all leaders of immigrant rights organizations.

In the wake of the failed immigration reform, passionate discussions have arisen among various organizations both for and against the DREAM Act.

It gives me great joy to see students taking nonviolent action to find a solution to the immigration question. Many of them came to the United States as children and have finished their high school education. Now, because they lack legal documents, they face an uncertain future that may deny them the opportunity to attend college or find a decent job. The DREAM Act offers them a light at the end of an otherwise dark and uncertain road.

I see students on fasts, in marches, lobbying elected officials, all in the name of the DREAM Act’s passage. But beware. Be very careful. Because our honorable youth with their dreams and wishes to serve their new country are being tricked and manipulated in an immoral and criminal way.

Why do I say this? Simply put, the DREAM Act proposes two years of college as a pathway to permanent residency, but it also includes a second option linked to the so-called war on terror — “two years of military service.” Our young people may not see that this is a covert draft in which thousands of youth from Latino families will be sent to Iraq or some other war-torn nation, where they will have to surrender their moral values and become war criminals or perhaps return home in black bags on their way to a tomb drenched with their parents’ tears.

How many of our youth can afford college? How many will be able to take the educational option? Unfortunately very few, because the existing system locks out the children of working families with high tuition and inflated admissions criteria. Most will be forced to take the military option to get their green card. But what good is a green card to a dead person? What good is a green card to a young person severely wounded in mind and body?

I ask our undocumented youth to read the following passages regarding the plans of the Pentagon and the Bush administration:

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 10, 2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu said: “According to an April 2006 study from the National Immigration Law Center, there are an estimated 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented alien young adults who entered the U.S. at an early age and graduate from high school each year, many of whom are bright, energetic and potentially interested in military service. ... Provisions of S 2611, such as the DREAM Act, would provide these young people the opportunity of serving the United States in uniform.”

More recently, Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve, a faculty member at West Point, told a reporter that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a “highly qualified cohort of young people” without the unknown personal details that would accompany foreign recruits. “They are already going to come vetted by Homeland Security. They will already have graduated from high school,” she said. “They are prime candidates.” (Citations from research by Prof. Jorge Mariscal, UC San Diego.)

As you can see, our undocumented youth are being targeted by military recruiters. And equally important is something that few people have mentioned — there is no such thing as a two-year military contract. Every enlistment is a total of eight years.

Given these facts, I invite all young people who are filled with hope and dreams and energy to fight for human rights and for a fair pathway to legalization. But they must also demand that the military option of the DREAM Act be replaced by a community service option (as appeared in earlier drafts of the legislation) so that community service or college become the two pathways to permanent residency. Only then will they avoid becoming victimized by a criminal war as my son Jesús Alberto did when he died on March 27, 2003, after stepping on an illegal U.S. cluster bomb. Through education or community service our undocumented youth can contribute to their communities, and their future will be filled with peace and justice.

Fernando Suárez del Solar (fernando @guerreroazteca.org) is founder/director of the Guerrero Azteca Peace Project.