Rising poverty caused by global competition between corporations forces thousands of people to flee their homelands and immigrate to the U.S. every year. These people leave their loved ones behind, as well as their culture and language, to be able to feed their families.
If immigrants are fortunate enough to make it into the U.S. and find work, business owners “reward” these extremely hard-working people with the least desirable jobs, the lowest pay (often below the legal minimum wage), few benefits, and discrimination.
Government raids and deportations rip immigrant families apart, forcing undocumented workers to live in hiding in constant fear of deportation.
During his 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama pledged to improve these conditions on the Spanish TV network, Univision: “What I can guarantee is that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.”
Lured by promises like these, 67% of Latino voters chose Obama over the Republican candidate in 2008. Three years later, Latinos are feeling betrayed.
Rather than improving immigrants’ rights, President Obama actually ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to intensify militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010, which has led to an increase in deaths along the border. Obama also carried out a record number of deportations in 2009 and 2010, the highest of any two-year period in U.S. history, more than Bush or any Republican. The Obama administration’s goal for 2011 is to deport 404,000 undocumented workers - over 1,000 per day, (www.ice.gov).
But now the 2012 elections are approaching, and the Latino population is growing fast, including the Latino voting population in key states that swing national elections. Under pressure from growing protests and annual immigrant rallies on May 1, International Workers’ Day, Obama decided to launch a series of six speeches in April and May promoting “immigration reform.”
“I want to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, to enforce our laws, and also to address the status of millions of undocumented workers. I want to sign the DREAM Act into law.
“This is not going to be easy. It’s going to require bipartisan support. I’m going to need your help. We’ve got to keep doing the hard work of changing minds and changing hearts and changing votes, one at a time. But all of you are going to be out there, and you’re going to have to help make this happen.”
Obama makes excuses for the Democrats’ broken promises by claiming that Democrats need the help of Republicans and ordinary people. However, ordinary people overwhelmingly voted in 2008 to give Democrats complete control over the White House and Congress, including a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2009. For two years from 2009-2010, Democrats could have used their supermajority to pass whatever legislation they wanted, and Republicans could not stop them.
These betrayals by the Democrats and a rise in harsh anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and other states finally compelled many immigrant youth to take action themselves. In 2010 and 2011, they organized student walk-outs, road blockades and occupations of senators’ offices. Undocumented youth boldly risked arrest and deportation, and they demanded that the Democrats pass the DREAM Act.
These young people’s tremendous courage and sacrifice deserves our full support. At the same time, we need to take a critical look at the details of the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) promises undocumented youth a limited, conditional legal status in exchange for completing two years of college or military service.
However, racial barriers, rising tuition and the lack of financial aid prevents an estimated 90% of undocumented students from ever completing college. According to a study by the National Council of La Raza, Latinos receive the least funding and preparation for college. They have the highest dropout rates (52%), lowest graduation rates (45%), and are least likely to receive a bachelor’s degree (8%).
In effect, 90% of undocumented youth would have to join the military to obtain legal status under the DREAM Act.
Democratic Senator Durbin was quoted in the Army Times (7/16/07), saying: “It turns out that many in the Department of Defense believe, as I do, that the DREAM Act is an important part of making certain we have talented young men and women ready to serve in our military.” Some Republicans support the bill, too, because it would provide more soldiers for a military that is overstretched in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
An earlier version of the bill did not contain the military services option and instead include community service as an option. The Pentagon was heavily influential in getting the military service option inserted into the bill.
Furthermore, in order to obtain legal status under the DREAM Act, undocumented youth would have to prove they entered the U.S. before the age of 16, resided in the U.S. for five years continuously, obtained a high school diploma or G.E.D., avoided travel restrictions and committing crimes, paid back-taxes, learned English, and fulfilled many more bureaucratic requirements.
After thirteen years they could apply for citizenship. Until then, they would be barred from many public benefits including Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants, and tax credits under the Democrats’ new health insurance law.
In conclusion, we should support the courageous protests of DREAM activists, but we must also criticize the DREAM Act for its many barriers to citizenship for 90% of undocumented youth and its requirement that most youth fight and possibly die in imperialist wars. Instead, we need to build a movement, independent of both corporate parties, that focuses on fighting for what all immigrants deserve: immediate, unconditional citizenship rights.
We also need to counter the corporate elite’s attempts to pit workers against one another by demanding living-wage jobs and free higher education for all workers of all races. This could be paid for by taxing corporations and millionaires and ending the wars.