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)
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
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
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
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
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)