Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Latino Youth Defines DREAM Act as a De Facto Military Draft

By VAMOS Unidos Youth

We write this statement to raise our voices as Latino youth working and living in the Bronx, New York in opposition to the DREAM ACT as it stands. We demand that we return to our original DREAM ACT that had a community service option instead of a military one. The military has been losing their numbers due to the multiple wars the US has begun. The DREAM ACT would hand us over on a platter to fight these unjust wars. The DREAM ACT has been warped over the years to draft Latino youth into the military, as they need more and more soldiers to fight their wars.

We have been living under harsh conditions. Our communities have been historically underprivileged, with militarized streets, schools that seem more like jails than educational institutions, and poverty that pushes people to desperation and sadness. We have grown up with the trauma of having our family members and friends detained, jailed, and deported. But we are strong and determined, so we keep onwards. We have stood next to our parents as they worked as street vendors, as they were ticketed, arrested, and sometimes assaulted by police for trying to make a living. We, as youth, have also been ticketed and arrested alongside our parents. We have come to understand what it is to be humiliated and then stand and fight for what is right, what is principled, what is just. Our parents’ unrelenting strength to fight for us and their rights have taught us to always stand up for what is right and never sell out.

We have asked ourselves “Is the DREAM ACT an advantage or disadvantage for us as immigrant youth?” Many of us were excited about the possibility of getting documents and finally being able to be recognized as human beings, be able to get a job, an education, and help our families. Along with our teachers and mentors we delved into community organizing and becoming politically conscious. We began learning about our history and our people’s resistance. We then expanded to other cultures and histories and began to appreciate them. We marched side by side with youth from all over the world including South Asia and the Middle East. We saw that within our hearts there was no difference, and enjoyed each other’s company and diversity. Our spirits were momentarily paralyzed when we began learning about the effects of war and how their families and communities had been destroyed. We began to ask ourselves “How can we stop these wars, how can we help?” Our political education allowed us to see through the military propaganda and the army recruiters in our blocks and schools. Speaking to our peers we saw how the military was using them to fight wars that didn’t concern us and killed our friends. This forced us to look at the DREAM ACT a lot closer.


In order to qualify for the DREAM ACT you have to have migrated before the age of 16 and have proof of residence in the United States for five consecutive years since the date of arrival. Also, you have to have graduated from high school or have a GED. This would eliminate many of our older youth, those that did not finish high school, and recent arrivals. You must then complete the following:

  1. Serve two years in the military, or;
  2. Finish two years of bachelor’s program or higher degree in the US.

What happened to the community service option that the original DREAM ACT contained? Why did our supposed advocates allow for the removal of the community service option? Was it because it became in this form the DREAM ACT became winnable? At what expense?

Two Years of College

The first option on the DREAM ACT is to go to school for at least two years; this is great for people who can afford the high tuition rates. But what about those of us who do not have enough money for the tuition, the books, and personal expenses? Also let’s not forget about our families who have more than one undocumented child who needs to go to school to get their papers.

DREAM ACT proponents say that most people will not go to the military, that they can afford school if we work. Unfortunately those folks are distanced from our realities and don’t understand our economic hardships. We broke down the cost of each year in school without the aid of Pell Grants or Financial Aid for attending two years of a four years University; our calculations were the following for a university in Ohio, which does not allow in-state tuition for undocumented students:

Cleveland State University: Out of State

  • 12 Credit Hours - $7,884.00 X 2 = 1 Year = $15,768.00 X 2 years = $31,536.00
  • Expenses for Students Living at Home with their Parents = $6,568.00 X 2 years = 13,136.00
  • GRAND TOTAL = $44,672.00

Only 10 states allow for undocumented students to pay for in-state tuition. The majority of undocumented youth would have to pay amounts as stated in the example above. We are lucky to be in New York as it is one of the states that allow undocumented youth to apply for in-state tuition. At the same time we understand that by accepting the terms under the DREAM ACT most youth would not have the same opportunity we do here in New York. Undocumented youth in states like North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, New Mexico would be forced to take the military option in large numbers as they would not be able to pay the high prices of education. For this reason we do not support the DREAM ACT.

Two Years of Military Requirement

We, the VAMOS UNIDOS YOUTH, do not support the DREAM ACT due to the military component. The fact that it has been introduced as a defense appropriation bill adds insult to injury. The DREAM ACT is a de facto military draft, forcing undocumented youth to fight in unjust wars in exchange for the recognition as human beings, a Green Card. This is a trick by the politicians, Democratic Party, and DC immigration advocates. The same way many supposed “advocates” for immigrant rights sold out the community with Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), they now sell us out with the DREAM ACT. We stand against any militarization- whether it is of the border, our communities, or our status. We will not kill innocent people in exchange for Green Cards.

Our parents have firmly stated in their fight for immigration reform, “We will not accept papers tainted with the blood of our people still crossing the border and dying,” in regards to CIR and it’s militarization of the border component. We say the same “We will not be used for the wars of the corporations and the rich in any part of the world in exchange of blood-stained immigration papers.”

We make a call out to all community organizations and allies to stand firmly on what is principled, against the DREAM ACT if it contains the military provision. Our fight will not be won in one or two years. We are prepared to organize our communities and struggle for many years. We cannot negotiate out our lives, our dignity, and the lives of others. We must rethink our strategies and take control away from the DC immigration advocates which have shown us they don’t have our interest. They have watered down good legislation at a very high cost to the community. Our communities need to decide and take control. We stand with our brothers and sisters affected by wars; we feel their pain and desperation. We will not be used to decimate other countries and their people. Thus, we stand together against the DREAM ACT with the militarization component and fight for what is principled, even if it takes us a very long time.

In Solidarity,


VAMOS Unidos: Vendedores Ambulantes Movilizando y Organizando en Solidaridad (Street Vendors Mobilizing and Organizing in Solidarity), is a Bronx, NY, community-based social justice organization founded by low-income Latina/Latino immigrant street vendors.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Make your Call for Justice -- Support the Dream

As you may know, today the U.S. Senate is set to consider the DREAM Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. We urge you to call your Senator to urge his/her support of DREAM, to provide an opportunity for undocumented students to gain legal immigration status. Moreover, we ask you to urge the Senators to include community service to the list of criteria for access to this program, restoring a provision of the original bill that was designed to embrace a broader cross section of the students who could benefit from this important program.

Please take a few minutes to call (202) 224-3121 to connect to your Senators' offices and ask that they take action to support DREAM, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

The DREAM Act -- particularly if it is broadened to include a greater number of immigrant youth and students -- deserves consideration as a "stand alone" bill. But in these weeks leading up to the mid-term elections, it has instead been offered by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as an amendment to the "must pass" defense appropriations bill. We resent that DREAM is being held hostage by the defense bill. We are very much aware that military conflicts produce millions of refugees and migrants every year, and in fact, many potential DREAM students and their families fled areas of conflict. Whether or not DREAM is included in the Defense Authorization Act, we further support the diversion of defense funds to education and social services.

The vote today will determine if DREAM will move forward at all and it faces stiff opposition. Tens of thousands of young immigrants -- "undocumented and unafraid" -- and their supporters have rallied to support DREAM. We need to send a message to Congress that we stand on the side of justice and in support of immigrant youth and students, for their future, and that of their families.

And whatever the vote on DREAM, we need to continue to work to make it more accessible for young immigrants: broaden access to include community sevice as a criteria; provide more funds for public education and for job training. Make the dream of a brighter future a reality!

Make your call now to 202-224-3121. Ask to speak to each of your Senator's offices.

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Who could benefit from DREAM?

* Just one year old, Daniel came to the U.S. from Mexico with an older sister to reunite with their parents. He is currently a student at the state university. He aspires to go into politics and give back to his community.

* Diana was three when she came to the U.S. She graduated from college with a degree in business and marketing. Since she is undocumented, she currently makes her living by cleaning houses and doing childcare. But she continues to hope for more meaningful employment where she can put her skills to work.

* John was born in Canada, but came to the U.S. when he was two as the child of a Filipino mother and Salvadoran father. He grew up in Oakland, graduating from high school in 2008. An exemplary student, John felt discouraged from applying to college because he would be ineligible for financial assistance due to his undocumented status. Since high school, John has become one of the youth leaders of ASPIRE, a Bay Area support group for undocumented Asian youth.

About the DREAM Act:

A number of different versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced over the past several years. Under the current proposal, upwards of 800,000 young undocumented immigrants could be eligible for conditional relief, and eventual permanent legal status if they meet certain critieria, including:

* Entered the U.S. before the age of 16
* Have lived continuously in the U.S. for the last 5 years
* Have completed high school (graduation/GED) or have been accepted into college
* Are between 12 and 35 years old at time of application
* Meet a "good moral character" standard

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National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
310 8th St. Ste. 303 | Oakland, CA 94607
Tel: 510.465.1984 | fax: 510.465.1885 |

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Letter to the DREAM Movement: My Painful Withdrawal of Support for the DREAM Act

By Raúl Al-qaraz Ochoa

17 September 2010

I have supported the DREAM Act, despite my critiques and concerns over the military service component. In fact, I was one of the arrestees at the sit-in at John McCain’s office in Tucson, AZ; an act of civil disobedience where four brave undocumented students risked deportation and put the DREAM Movement back in the national political stage. I made peace with my participation because I felt I was supporting the self-determination of a movement led by undocumented youth and I felt we could subvert the component that was to feed undocumented youth into the military pipeline if we developed a plan to support youth to the college pathway.

First, let me say that I applaud and admire the tireless work you have all done for the past 10 years. Your commitment and dedication parallels giant student movements of the Civil Rights era. Your persistence in organizing even when the world turned their back on you is inspiring; your creativity in tactics, visuals and media strategy is amazing. Your movement gives hope to hundreds of students I have come across here in Arizona and beyond. It is because of your grassroots efforts—not the politicians’ nor the national Hispanic organizations’—that the Dream is still alive and has come this far. As an organizer with permanent resident status privilege, let me assert that your cause for access to college and path to legalization is just. No one can tell you that what you are fighting for is wrong.

With that said, I want to share how I am deeply appalled and outraged at how Washington politics are manipulating and co-opting the dream. I understand that some folks may say, “we just want the DREAM Act to pass regardless”, but it is critical to examine the political context surrounding DREAM in its current state. It is disturbing to see how Democrats are attaching our community’s dreams for education/legalization to a defense appropriations bill. This is grotesque in a number of ways:

1) Democrats are using the DREAM Act as a political stunt to appeal to Latino voters for the November elections because it is seen as “less” threatening than a broad immigration reform. The Democrats have the political will to recently unite and pass a border militarization bill in a matter of hours ($600 million!), yet they won’t pass a broader immigration reform? And now they are up for the DREAM Act? I’m glad they feel the pressure of the Latino voting bloc, but they obviously do not care about our lives, they only seek to secure their seats in November—which by the way look very jeopardized if they don’t move quickly to energize their “base”. They are also seeking to secure the gay vote with the gradual repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as part of this same defense bill. All in all, insincere, token political gestures only serve to stall real justice.

2) Democrats are telling me that if I support access to education for all my people, I must also support the U.S. war machine with $670 billion for the Pentagon? Does this mean I have to support the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan? By supporting the DREAM Act, does this mean I automatically give a green light for U.S. forces to continue invading, killing and raping innocent people all over the world? This is really unfair. Here in Arizona I struggle with a climate of fear and terror. Yet even though I am so far away, I hear the cries of Arab mothers who are losing their children in U.S. sponsored bombings and massacres. There’s a knot in my throat because victims of U.S. aggression abroad look just like us… victims of U.S. aggression at home. This ugly and twisted political system is dividing us and coercing us into supporting the funding of more bloodshed and more destruction if we want the DREAM Act to pass. Does this mean that our dreams will rest upon the nightmares of people that suffer globally? Obviously, students that call their Senators are supporting their future NOT bloodshed abroad, but we have to be responsible to the larger political implications of this.

3) Democrats are vilifying and criminalizing our parents. A really insulting argument prominently used for passing the DREAM Act that I keep hearing over and over is that because undocumented students “didn’t choose to come to the U.S. to break the laws of this country” you shouldn’t have to pay for the“sins” or “illegal behavior” of your parents. Are they serious?!? It is not okay to allow legislation to pass that will stand on and disrespect the struggle, sacrifice and dignity of our parents. What about blaming U.S. led capitalist and imperialist policies as the reasons that create our “refugee” populations. Our parents’ struggle is not for sale. We must not fall for or feed into the rhetoric that criminalizes us or our parents. We all want justice, but is it true justice if we have to sell out our own family members along the way?

Again, I support this fight –- it’s part of a larger community struggle. It’s personal to all of us. Passage of the DREAM Act would definitely be a step forward in the struggle for Migrant Justice. Yet the politicians in Washington have hijacked this struggle from its original essence and turned dreams into ugly political nightmares.

I refuse to be a part of anything that turns us into political pawns of dirty Washington politics. I want my people to be “legalized” but at what cost? We all want it bad. I hear it. I’ve lived it. but I think it’s a matter of how much we’re willing to compromise in order to win victories or crumbs.

This again proves how it is problematic to lobby the state and put all our efforts in legislation to pass. We should know that this political route is always filled with racism, opportunism, betrayals and nightmares. History repeats itself once again.

So if I support the DREAM Act, does this mean I am okay with our people being used as political pawns? Does this mean that my hands will be smeared with the same bloodshed the U.S. spills all over the world? Does this mean I am okay with blaming my mother and my father for migrating “illegally” to the U.S.? Am I willing to surrender to all that in exchange for a benefit? Maybe it’s easier for me to say that ”I can” because I have papers, right? I’d like to think that it’s because my political principles will not allow me to do so, regardless of my citizenship status or personal benefit at stake.

Strong movements that achieve greater victories are those that stand in solidarity with all oppressed people of the world and never gain access to rights at the expense of other oppressed groups.

I have come to a deeply painful decision: I can no longer in good political conscience support the DREAM Act because the essence of a beautiful dream has been detained by a colonial nightmare seeking to fund and fuel the U.S. empire machine.

I am so sorry and so enraged that this larger political context has deferred those dreams of justice and equality that we all share.

In tears, rage and love,


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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Record Year of Repression

| By Arnoldo Garcia |

For those claiming that the immigration system is "broken" and needs "CIR," comprehensive immigration reform, ask someone who has had a loved one, a co-worker or a family member taken away by the police, jailed and deported, how broken is the system. Short of any reform, relief can be provided by taking a few commonsense and humanitarian steps. For example, the U.S. must fully restore civil rights and due process for all persons, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. The abuses immigrants are subjected to in detention and deportation have to be investigated and prosecute those accountable.

This has been a signature year for the U.S. government, notable for the runaway repression of immigrant families, workers and communities. This is nothing to brag about:
  • The U.S. is reporting that the number of people coming in without authorization, or who may have overstayed a visa and have also become "undocumented," has decreased.
  • At the same time the U.S. is deporting record numbers of immigrants,; expected to surpass 400,000 by the end of the fiscal year ending in September.
  • And, worse for immigrant families, workers and communities, a record number of migrant dead have been recovered on the U.S. side of the Mexico border.
These are the results of U.S. laws, practices, measures and policies that have criminalized immigration status, militarized immigration control and border communities, and that do not address the root causes of migration that forces a person to risk their life to survive.

On top of all this, immigrant workers face additional hurdles to employment with living wages -- and immigrant workers are scapegoated for the other record, record unemployment. Nothing or little is said about protecting labor rights, ensuring an income or a job and other remedies. U.S. immigration laws and policies fuel the banner year of scapegoating and anti-immigrant hate violence, another record this year.

Are more coming with authorization? Nope. The U.S. could drastically reduce the number of unauthorized entrants by decriminalizing status, issuing sufficient visas for family reunification and ending the backlog. And by regularizing the status of those already here.

Is repression the hallmark of "21st century law enforcement," as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) touts itself? The U.S. continues investing billions in expanding immigration controls, extending immigration-police collaboration programs, building jail bed space exclusively for immigrants and continuing the deadly strategy of militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. border security deliberately funnels migrants into the desert and mountains of Arizona and parts of New Mexico and Texas where thousands have perished or disappeared since this strategy, called "prevention through deterrence," was implemented in 1994.

System of Repression

The U.S. economy is still in a tailspin; unemployment is deep and jobs are shriveling up. Instead of protecting the labor rights of ALL workers, native and foreign-born, the U.S. has increased immigration policing in the workplace by creating a new generation of employer sanctions using E-verify. The GAO studied and found that employer sanctions cause new forms of racial discrimination in employment, housing and services. While this is old news, employer sanctions continues being expanded and in all its forms gives almost warlord status and power to employers.

With E-verify and employer sanction in hand, employers believe they can act with impunity and immunity, firing workers who assert their rights or organize unions. Employers violate wage laws and safety protections with impunity because they believe that the immigration status of an employee determines if they have to obey labor and other laws.

The old adage of "When the U.S. gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia" is more true than ever. When U.S. workers, especially white workers, face such dire times, immigrant workers, whether Mexican, South Asian, African, Haitian or of any nationality that does not pass as white, are literally thrown onto the street corners and are at the mercy of the the wolves of exploitation.

The U.S. government's treatment of immigrants is nothing to be proud about. Official policies have unleashed waves of scapegoating along with a proliferation of repressive legislation by state, county and local officials targeting immigrants -- or anyone perceived to be born outside the country. SB1070, the controversial Arizona law that gives local law enforcement additional powers to check a person's immigration status, is the tip of the iceberg of anti-immigrant repression.

Over twenty states are considering SB1070 copycat laws. The Obama Administration has implemented "Secure Communities" and other federal immigration-police collaboration programs in over 500 jurisdictions; final the goal is to extend Secure Communities to every county by 2012.

So, get ready for more record years of repression.

What is to be done? We need to "Dream, Rise, Organize" with fierce human determination to rollback and reverse the climate of hate, exploitation and abuse, as we continue organizing for socially just immigration reforms .


Arnoldo Garcia works for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; he is the director of NNIRR's Immigrant Justice & Rights Program. This slightly revised piece was originally published on the blog "La carpa del FEO: Fandango in East Oakland."

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