October 8, 2004

Commentary

Interpreting 'Dreams': Green Card Bill Has Hidden Dangers

By Jorge Mariscal
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, has received strong support from Latino activists across the country. What advocates and the media have ignored are the potential consequences of the military service component of the proposed legislation.

According to the latest version of the bill sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), immigrants who entered the country five years or more before the bill’s enactment and before they were 16 years old would receive provisional U.S. residency.

Permanent residency would be granted if, within six years of obtaining conditional residency, the immigrant graduates from a two-year college, completes two years in a bachelor’s degree program, performs 910 hours of volunteer community service, or serves in the U.S. armed forces for two years.

So how real is the college option?

The National Center for Education reports that of those Latinos who successfully graduate from high school, only 42 percent continue on to college. According to the September 2002 “Interim Report of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans,” only about 25 percent of non-citizen Latino immigrants complete college. Even among Mexican Americans (U.S. citizens) only 7 percent over the age of 25 hold an Associate (two-year) degree.

Connect this situation to the rising cost of a college education (even at the community college level), the fact that immigrant students often are reluctant to take out loans, artificially stringent admissions criteria, and the elimination of affirmative action, and the outlook for getting large numbers of undocumented Latinos into college is far from positive.

Because most undocumented students need to work to help support their families, few if any have extended periods of time to devote to community service.

The reality of coming decades is that for many young and undocumented Latinas and Latinos, the DREAM Act’s option of obtaining a green card in exchange for military service may be the only viable one.

Military recruiters can be expected to exploit this situation whenever possible. The Pentagon has stated publicly its goal of doubling the number of Latinos and Latinas in the armed forces by 2007. The Army’s most recent “School Recruiting Program Handbook,” issued by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, outlines how recruiters can achieve “school ownership” and “total market penetration” by insinuating themselves into the social and cultural fabric of public schools and colleges, where undocumented students will be especially vulnerable to the recruiters’ sales pitches.

While the educational and community service provisions of the DREAM Act may merit our support, the military service provision poses a number of political and moral dilemmas. Does our desire to protect undocumented children by securing their legal residency override the likelihood that many of these children will fill the lowest ranks of the U.S. military? Is getting a green card worth the risk of young Latinos and Latinas losing their lives on foreign soil?

As the DREAM Act legislation moves forward, it is important that we carefully consider the consequences that all of its provisions may have for our children’s future. Activists and Latino advocacy organizations should fight for a version of the DREAM Act that eliminates the military service option.

Mariscal, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1969. He is a member of the San Diego-based counter-recruitment organizations Project YANO and the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft.

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