No legislation is perfect. No legislation cannot be tweaked to be made better and to be more honest to the principles or goals that it espouses. Too often, though, legislation is promoted through massive PR campaigns which often hide, or even mislead us about, its intended purpose. We can see how the health care bill went through a major campaign of disinformation, propaganda, hidden agendas, etc., on both sides of the Democratic/Republican aisle. Unfortunately, a huge constituency (the consumer) was truly left out of the discussion as Single Payer (Medicare for All) advocates weren’t even permitted to have a seat at the table, thus insuring a victory for the health insurance industry, in whatever form the bill would make its way out of chambers. This was true even when Medicare for All advocates represented a majority of the popular view, including among Republicans, but less so.
Much can be said about the DREAM Act. Those of us who are advocates want to see our documented and undocumented students be able to succeed in their new American life. We would love to see them go to college and become productive citizens of the US. For so many, the DREAM Act addresses these concerns for residents who often have been here all their lives but, due to their immigration status, live in our shadows and underground, not enjoying the full privileges that all of us take advantage of when we can. Those of us in Secondary Education are additionally faced with the ethical question of why we should be promoting graduation when state laws restrict undocumented students from even entering college, or require them to pay out-of-state tuition if accepted.
For many, the belief is that the DREAM Act addresses these concerns. Furthermore, it provides for a path to citizenship once an undocumented student completes their education. Unfortunately, the DREAM Act does not provide college education at all. That is a ruse. During the first six years, the bill calls for immigrants to be granted “conditional” status, if they graduate from a two-year community college, complete at least two years towards a 4-year degree, or serve two years in the U.S. military. After the six year period, an immigrant who has met at least one of these three conditions would be eligible to apply for legal permanent resident status. The Act only provides certain benefits to those who go to college. There is nothing in the bill that provides federal (Pell) or state grants and the cost of college is often out of reach for most of our students. This may be a technicality, but we often confuse access to something as equal to a right of having something.
For example, in July the United Nations passed a Bolivian sponsored resolution that safe and clean drinking water is a human right. The US abstained from supporting this measure, along with other industrial (capitalist) countries. Why? Because the US and others wanted access to safe and clean drinking water to be included in the language. If it were so, then the argument would be that safe and clean water is available, as long as it can be paid for. The privatization of water resources is far more important to the US (much like public education) than its availability to the public.
So the question regarding the passage of the DREAM Act is Cui bono? Who is the big winner in its passage? Who helped to write the DREAM Act, first of all? None other than the Pentagon. The DREAM Act is a military recruitment bill. Even though non-citizens and undocumented residents already can join the military, this bill provides the carrot of possible citizenship; this is not a guaranteed proviso.
What is the harm in all of this? Regardless of whether one supports an imperial foreign policy or not, the bill gives an overwhelming advantage to military recruitment. The military provides some things now that the hope of a college education will provide much later in life: three square meals, shelter, guaranteed (physical) health care while in the service, ‘promises’ of college grants through the Montgomery Bill, etc.
A young high school graduate in today’s economy has very few options, whether they be citizens or not. College tuition without outright grants is very difficult to obtain. It is no surprise that many do join the military when times are tough. That’s why it’s called a poverty draft.
What would make the DREAM Act acceptable? As much as I would like to take the military completely out of the bill, that is unrealistic. Many of our students actually do want to join the military. For many, it carries on a family tradition. For others, military recruitment in the schools (low-income schools only) and pervasive ROTC programs do unfortunately work to get their numbers up. Removing the military from our schools is another issue. What is missing in the DREAM Act are two fundamental pieces.
First would be to provide federal (Pell) grants to undocumented students to complete their education, whether at a 2-year community college or 4-year college or university. Second, there should be a community service component, as an alternative to military service. Already in many states, Maryland included, community service hours are required for graduation. How much easier would it be to get students to complete this requirement throughout their school career rather than wait until the last minute, if they knew that such service could be part of their lives after high school? It would no longer be a drudge but part of what they’re learning about citizenship.
As it stands, the DREAM Act is a military recruitment program. As our military engages in endless wars of imperial design, more likely than not, our vanquished look so much like our very students for whom we wish a better life, and a life that complements America’s greatness, not its ugliness.