Friday, December 17, 2010

DREAM Act Up For A Vote: Which Way Forward?

By Teresa Gutierrez
Published Dec 16, 2010 10:11 PM

Dec. 13 — Undocumented students and youth as well as their supporters have ratcheted up the struggle to demand the passage of the DREAM Act with the vote on the agenda in Congress.

Sit-ins, demonstrations and calls to and lobbying of Congress have been on the rise throughout the country as elected officials like Sen. Harry Reid continue to promise to pass the act before a new Congress takes office in January 2011.

The recent actions represent almost a decade of struggle in which a tireless group of young activists have borrowed several tactics from the Civil Rights Movement to get their story out.

The youth are called “Dreamers.” They have added another meaning to the phrase “coming out” as they come forward declaring they are “undocumented and unafraid.” Even in some of the most reactionary anti-immigrant areas in the country —Arizona and Texas for example —students and youth are carrying out impressive actions.

As of Dec. 13 the legislation had passed the House of Representatives and word is waiting from the Senate.

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is bipartisan legislation first introduced in 2001. It has the possibility of providing legal status and eventual legalization to about 750,000 youth, although estimates vary.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 280,000 high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 could meet the necessary requirements to become legal residents if the bill becomes law.

The DREAM Act requires that the youth must meet all of the following requirements: They had to have been brought to the U.S. before they turned 16; they must be below the age of 35; they have to have lived here continuously for five years; they have to have graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED diploma; they have to have so-called “good” moral character with no criminal record; and they must attend college or enlist in the military.

Imperialist tactic: Divide and conquer

If the young immigrant is not able to obtain a job or afford college, he or she must enter the U.S. military in order to obtain legalization.

This onerous condition has created understandable tension within the progressive and immigrant rights movement. No revolutionary or progressive activist wishes to see youth forced into the imperialist military, putting themselves in harm’s way, literally dying for legalization. Too many migrant workers have died already.

Many Dream Act activists are also torn by this odious provision.

The bill originally would have allowed the youth to be eligible for legalization with 900 hours of community service. The Pentagon, however, always in search of fresh cannon fodder, compelled legislators to substitute the military for community service.

In addition, to add salt to the wound, immigrant activists report that the Dream Act has now been tweaked so that it can guarantee that not many youth will actually meet the requirements for legalization, but there will be enough to help fill the ranks of the armed forces.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association writes that Senate Majority Leader Reid, a Democrat, filed a new version of the Dream Act in late November. His aim was to get the Republicans on board — in other words, he appealed to the right wing — under the guise of reaching for the 60 Senate votes required to prevent a Republican filibuster.

The new version tightens the restrictions on eligibility in several ways: It “requires all applicants to provide their biometric data to Department of Homeland Security, to submit to background checks and medical examination, to register for military selective service; ... sets the cut-off age to those who are less than 30 years old on the date of enactment; ... extends the good moral character requirement back to the date the alien entered the United States rather than the date of enactment of DREAM; expands the applicable grounds of inadmissibility to include the health-related, public charge, smuggling, draft dodging, and unlawful voting grounds; ... [and] expands the circumstances where disclosure of confidential information about DREAM applicants is required for homeland security or national security purposes.” (AILA InfoNet)

In other words, the new revisions are more dangerous and repressive, and make it much more a Pentagon bill. It is hardly the bill the youth have been fighting for.

With the deepening capitalist economic crisis and the leveling of social conditions for the workers in this country, opportunities for jobs and education are becoming more and more scarce, a vanishing dream for many, with or without papers.

The righteous anger of students in the streets of London and Puerto Rico, for example, is a reflection of the worldwide crisis for young people.

The chance that many undocumented youth will be forced into the U.S. military becomes a greater threat. This particular condition of the DREAM Act is treacherous as it represents another version of the poverty draft imposed by the imperialists.

Like the thousands of Black, Latino/a and poor white youth who are forced to join the military because there are no good-paying jobs or opportunities for higher education, immigrant youth will continue to be part of the growing economic draft that fills the ranks of the armed forces.

With U.S. military strategy ever more belligerent, with the continued occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, its war moves against Korea and the growing militarization in Mexico, Central America and further south, imperialism’s need for soldiers recruited from the working class becomes ever more insatiable.

Yearning for legalization

Progressives here should support any demand for legalization of the undocumented. Workers have earned legalization a hundred times over. Migrant workers are forced to come to this country because of imperialist policies such as NAFTA or wars abroad. The U.S.-orchestrated kidnapping of President Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti was another imperialist crime that forced migration. U.S. colonial and military domination of the Philippines forces over 60,000 Filipinos into the U.S. every year.

Yet once workers are forced here they are criminalized and scapegoated, used solely as cheap labor to fill the coffers of the capitalist class.

Right-wing forces like the Tea Party have steadily campaigned against the Dream Act, calling it an “amnesty for illegals.” But over the last couple of years, Dream activists’ expectation that the Dream Act will pass has risen as they receive signs of encouragement from many bourgeois sources.

Elected officials such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Sen. Reid — some say Reid owes his re-election to the Latino/a vote — have waved a victory flag in front of Dreamers. Many Ivy League university presidents have indicated their support for the Dream Act, including Harvard’s head. The CEO of Microsoft also called for its passage.

The support for the Dream Act from the likes of Microsoft begs the question: Why are bourgeois figures, none of them on the side of the working class, supporting legalization for one sector of the undocumented?

The bourgeois voices calling for the Dream Act’s passage have their own agenda. They aim to pick what they perceive as the cream of the crop, to get highly motivated and skilled youth into the halls of higher education while at the same time they foster and allow the terror waged against day laborers to continue.

If the Dream Act passes, it will be a step forward for the movement defending immigrant rights. But it can also be a step backward if it is not accompanied by a clarion call to escalate the struggle for legalization for all.

The movement must increase the demand to reinstate the community service provision in the Dream Act, a demand raised by the California Federation of Teachers, the Desis Rising Up Movement, the Southern California Immigration Coalition, the May 1st Coalition of NYC, the Southwest Workers Union and many others.

This demand as well as one to repeal the economic draft will be decisive if the act passes as is.

It would be the height of cruel imperialist irony if those same youth are forced to go to Arizona or California to turn their guns on the migrant workers attempting to cross the U.S./Mexican border, many of whom could be members of their very own families.

If the Dream Act passes, surely most of the students and youth will continue to fight for legalization for the rest of their families.

If the act does not pass, however, it will remain to be seen which way this movement will turn: Will it become demoralized and dissipate? Or will it become radicalized and learn what many of the young people’s elders already know: that to depend on the Democratic Party, to depend on the very capitalist system that forces workers to come here, that militarizes the U.S./Mexican border more and more every day leads to a dead end.

Will it look to the struggles not in Washington but in Latin America and elsewhere that demonstrate that militant independent and revolutionary struggle is the only way out?

The dire economic crisis workers and oppressed people face demands a higher understanding of our struggles. It demands a class analysis of every issue.

Legalization is a right for every undocumented person. But the only army our youth should enlist in is the army of the workers and oppressed fighting for our rights.

Dreamers need not lose their dream if the Dream Act does not pass. The struggle inevitably guarantees our victory.
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