Thumbnail image for young soldiers.jpg[Blogger’s note:  This week’s guest blog is by Steve Yale-Loehr, a good friend who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School and co-authors the leading U.S. immigration treatise. Steve has just finished co-editing Green Card Stories, a book that features dramatic narratives of 50 recent U.S. immigrants—each with permanent residence or citizenship—in compelling essays by nationally recognized journalist Saundra Amrhein and exquisite portraits by award-winning documentary photographer Ariana Lindquist.

Steve addresses pragmatic, legal and moral questions raised by GOP proposals that would drop the option of pursuing higher education and instead require DREAM Act youth to serve in the military as the only way to attain legal status. 

Reading Steve’s post, I am reminded of the despicable term, “cannon fodder,” and the hypocrisy of sending “expendable” youth into harm’s way, where many lives will likely be cut short, wasted in wars started by their elders.

Shakespeare penned it best when he had the cynical Falstaff say in Henry IV, Part I:  Food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit, as well as better.”

A military-only DREAM Act — more aptly dubbed the NIGHTMARE Act — sends a terrible message.  Congress should keep the education-option available to innocent men and women (brought here by their families) who by any definition — other than in law — are Americans all.

Blogger’s postscript to his note: I must apologize for having used the term “cannon fodder” and suggesting that some might view soldiers recruited through a military-only version of the DREAM Act as “expendable.”  I now understand and regret that reasonable readers might view this as a criticism of the U.S. military. My intent was to criticize politicians not our armed services.]


Why Congress Should Reject a Military-Only Version of the DREAM Act

By Steve Yale-Loehr

First proposed in 2001 by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would allow certain undocumented noncitizens a chance to legalize their status by going to college or serving in the military. Since then it has been introduced regularly both as a stand-alone bill and as part of comprehensive immigration reform bills, drawing bipartisan support each time in both the House and Senate. The closest it has come to enactment was in 2010, when it passed the House but failed to get through the Senate.

Congress has watered down the DREAM Act over the last decade.The original 2001 version would have granted permanent resident status (green cards) to any undocumented child who had been in the United States for at least five years, as long as they had good moral character and were attending a college or university.

By contrast, the Senate’s 2011 version of the bill would require individuals to have entered the United States before they were 15; have graduated from a U.S. high school or received a GED from a U.S. institution;be under 35 on the date of enactment; and have lived in the United States for at least five years. Prior versions of the bill did not include an age cap. Similarly, the current version of the bill would require beneficiaries to stay in conditional resident status for six years before they could get permanent green cards. Early versions of the DREAM Act would have immediately granted green cards to individuals who met the bill’s requirements.

The current version would also make applicants subject to more grounds of inadmissibility, deportability, and other restrictions. Some want to water down the DREAM Act even more.Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich say they would support a DREAM Act — but only for young immigrants who join the military. Representative David Rivera (R-FL) has introduced a bill along similar lines.

Problems with a military-only DREAM Act range from the practical to the philosophical. For example, Representative Rivera’s bill would require people to enlist within nine months; otherwise they would lose their eligibility under the bill. The bill fails to realize, however, that people can’t start the enlistment process until they are legal and have a social security number. It can take longer than nine months to complete the enlistment process, and the military services have annual quotas that get filled quickly when the economy is bad, forcing people into the next fiscal year.

In addition, some potential enlistees may fail to qualify for medical reasons. Suppose someone gets temporary status under the Rivera bill, tries to enlist, and turns out to be colorblind. Do we tell them, “Sorry, we are deporting you because you are colorblind. No refund of the immigration fees you paid to start the DREAM Act process”?

The call for a military-only DREAM Act also poses moral problems. It effectively tells undocumented noncitizens that they are only useful for war, not for improving our economy through their hard work or inspiring the next generation by teaching in our schools. Those professions are just as noble as fighting for our country. As a new book, Green Card Stories, points out, people who legalize their status help this country in a variety of important ways.

Proponents of a military-only DREAM Act also forget the economic benefits of enacting a broader bill. For example, A 2010 study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center estimates that the total earnings of DREAM Act beneficiaries over the course of their working lives would be between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion. Similarly, a 2008 study from Arizona State University found that an individual with a bachelor’s degree earns approximately $750,000 more over the course of his or her lifetime than an individual with only a high-school diploma. In these tough economic times, we need the earnings of everyone in this country as much as we need their military service.

Langston Hughes once wrote:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? 

Or fester like a sore and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over, like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?”

Politicians should watch out. Trying to dilute the DREAM Act may backfire on them and cause DREAMers to explode in widespread demonstrations and cries of outrage, if necessary to enact a true DREAM Act.