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From Draft NOtices, November-December, 2004

The Interpretation of Dreams:

Covert recruitment strategies in the DREAM Act

— Jorge Mariscal

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, has received strong support from Latino activists across the country. Throughout the month of September, numerous groups staged rallies and fasts in over fifty cities. 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 Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), 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.

In a September 19 story in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Jennifer Mena told the story of Elvia Flores, an undocumented 20-year-old Mexican immigrant who like many others overcame great hardship and wants nothing more than to attend college. Ms. Flores told Mena that the DREAM Act would "change my whole life."

The fact that anti-immigrant groups lead the opposition to the DREAM Act naturally has increased the intensity of the support from immigrants' rights groups.

How real is the college option?

The National Center for Education reports that of those Latinos who successfully graduate from high school only 42% 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% of non-citizen Latino immigrants complete college. Even among Mexican Americans (U.S. citizens) only 7% over the age of 25 hold an associate (two-year) degree.

In reality, the college pipeline for Latinos in general and undocumented Latinos in particular is relatively dry. 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 college admissions requirements, 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 harsh fact is that, for many young and undocumented Latinas and Latinos in coming decades, the DREAM Act's option of obtaining a green card in exchange for military service may be the only viable one.

Military recruiters will 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 schools and colleges where undocumented students will be especially vulnerable to the recruiters' sales pitch.

In a period of an unusually extreme and aggressive U.S. foreign policy, preemptive wars and military interventions, this situation should concern all progressives and counter-recruitment activists.

How Hispanic advocacy groups help the recruiters

For some in the Latino community, military service is not only a viable option, it is among the most desirable ones. Masculine coming-of-age fantasies and uncritical patriotism conspire with inadequate economic and educational opportunities to drive many families to see the armed forces as a way to move beyond structural obstacles of class and race.

Military service as a path to assimilation has a long tradition in Spanish-speaking communities in the United States, and it is no different for the huge numbers of Latin American immigrants who arrived in the 1990s. Established advocacy groups like the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) work directly with the Pentagon to design programs to take advantage of these conditions.

In 1999, the NCLR released a report titled "A Force Overlooked: Achieving Full Representation of Hispanics in the Department of Defense Workforce." Advocating the increased presence for Latinos in the military, NCLR president Raúl Yzaguirre complained: "It is especially troubling to me as an Air Force veteran that Hispanic young people are being deprived of one of the traditional avenues of upward mobility — in terms of enhanced educational opportunities and top-notch job skill development — in this society." Yzaguirre's remark reinforced the misconception that the military's primary mission is jobs training and education and not armed conflict.

Also in 1999, NCLA and other Latino organizations such as the American GI Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) collaborated in the writing of "Hispanic Youth and Military Enlistment Propensity," a Department of Defense-sponsored study drafted by TRW Corporation and designed to teach recruiters how best to align their sales pitch with the "values of Hispanic culture."

A fiercely patriotic and assimilationist organization since its founding in the 1920s, LULAC has stayed true to its original goals of making Latinos "palatable" to dominant U.S. culture. At their July 2004 annual convention, LULAC invited all branches of the military to their training sessions and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense to assist in DoD's recruiting and employment of Latinos.

The Nightmare or the DREAM?

Whether it is because of middle-class advocacy groups engineering the future of working-class children or well-meaning legislation trying to help undocumented youth, young Latinos and Latinas increasingly may find themselves tracked into career choices they otherwise might not have made.

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

How will we react if in five or ten years the vast majority of undocumented youth, trapped by limited life chances and seduced by the promise of legal residency, has been tracked into military service instead of higher education?

As the DREAM Act moves forward, it is important to consider carefully all the potential consequences it may have for our children's future. Activists and advocacy organizations should fight for a version of the DREAM Act that eliminates the military service clause.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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