Friday, September 24, 2010

An Invitation to Paul Ortiz and the DREAMers from an Ally (Community Voices)

LA DREAM Act Credit-Ruben Hernandez,

by Pablo Paredes

Dear Paul and beloved DREAMers,

As a Latino, a veteran and an activist we share much in the way of life experiences. When I hear Paul's history I am proud and stand in admiration wondering how I can connect with such an activist and build together. I can see why you are throwing your hat in the ring in defense of the DREAMers. These are folks I also admire and feel a deep sense of pride for because I consider myself connected to the larger community with them. A community of migrants, children of migrants, people of color, and marginalized folks fighting back against injustice. In many ways, I feel they have become excelent role models for our community. They challenge us to be unafraid and to stand for what is right even if it means taking risks. They have answered a call that many sheros and heros in our history have before them. They now form part of an amazing continuity of freedom fighters that includes the freedom riders of the civil rights era, the out and unafraid queer folk who staged the Stonewall uprising and many even before those moments in relatively recent history.

5 years ago I also felt the call and I also took some risks. See in 2004 I found my brown body in a blue navy uniform and I was asked to take young Marines to Iraq to face possible death and probable orders to take the lives of Iraq's women, children and elderly in large numbers as "colateral damage". I could not do it. What's more, I felt it was the time to take a stand. As a latino I was also motivated by the reality that 4 green card Latin@ soldiers were among the firs week's casualties and over 20% of the invading force was RAZA. These numbers speak to the reality that when brown bodies finish bootcamp they are more likely to navigate combat rather than navigating radar and high tech systems. When I took my stand on December 6th, 2004, and refused to participate in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and spoke out publicly against that illegal and imoral war being fought disproporitonately by folks of color - my family was also risking something else.

My partner's visa had expired and I was drawing attention to our family at a time when her status was a vulnerability. She told me that the risks we faced were so much smaller than the risks that soldiers of color and Iraq's people faced. So I went through with it and I was Court Martialed and kicked out of the military without many benefits. I was held in a legal detention center for 10 months and I served out a 3 months of a Hard Labor sentence as well. My wife discovered she was pregnant a few months before my trial. I was not free during the final months of her pregnancy.

It is this history that makes me feel closer to the ideals, activism experience and willingness to face risk of the DREAMers than perhaps most people who haven't lived these kinds of life choices involving serious risks. After being discharged I was unemployed, uneducated, and unqualified to do anything other than War making from a Navy vessel. My undocumented partner and I, who were living in San Diego where I was discharged, had a newborn baby. Our Young family went from friend's living room to living room trying to survive and figure out an employment opportunity for me to support us. We were always terrified of travel even in the city and of accessing services because there were raids back then all the time and families torn apart. I wanted to petition for my wife's status but the process took long and we could not afford the application and legal fees ($1500 just to get started at that time.)

After almost a year of this lifestyle a job opportunity appeared in Oakland. This was almost as scary as continuing our current reality because it meant crossing ICE check points in order to go north. Because the job had a 3 month trial period we made an even more difficult decision that I would go first and stay in a friends living room while sending money back to my wife who now had to navigate the city, undocumented and not very fluent in English- by herself. As soon as the first paycheck came we began trying to work for her status but the lawyers said we had to be together and so she had to come up to Oakland. I went back down and we decided we would risk everything driving up even though my trial period was not over yet. We hopped in a little car and headed north with a newborn and not much to call our own. As we approached a truck weigh station I think some powerful force intervened on our behalf. I accidentally got off on the weigh station which was only for trucks and it just so happens by doing so we dodged an ICE Check point. My wife's heart pumped so hard I could feel it in her tense piercing grip around my right hand as we drove just ten feet to the right of the destruction of families like ours.

I am sharing some of my personal life to assure you that I am not the "Social Justice Elite" by any stretch of the imagination. I am not an "anti-militarist absolutist" by any stretch of the imagination. My experience led me to commit myself to work with young people of color and undocumented youth in low-income realities to fight for rights and challenge militarism that leads so many in these communities to death, psychological trauma and dire poverty. I've spent the last 5 years working with high school aged youth from low-income communities of color mostly in the public schools of this interesting state of California.

I am committed to these youth. I organize with them politically, I believe in lifting their voice but I also am committed to their basic needs. I help many of the youth I work with on homework and school projects, i've invited more than one into my home when they were in trouble. They have cried on my shoulder and vented in my living room. I've advocated with them about problems in their group homes, in altercations with police, and in problems at school. I've volunteered to teach spanish as an active elective, so that one of them could make enough credits to graduate on time. This community is my life. I know it well I know their stories and most of this country does not and does not seem to want to listen.

So let's talk about undocumented youth within this community. Studies and activist often mention that there are over 2.1 million undocumented youth in this country and about a quarter of them live in California where I do my work in the public schools. Most are in elementary school or High school or were there in the last 5 years at the same time that i've been doing this work in High schools. Few, a relatively small percentage are in college where you do your work. I don't mean that to minimize your commitment or your voice but i think perspective is critical. The fact is of these 2.1 million we know that at least 1.4 million will never see a college classroom. There are reasons for this that most activist and people wrestling with our country's inequality are somewhat familiar with. But I will restate a few.

Tracking systems in public schools that often pipeline white students to college tracks while students of color and especially undocumented English language learners are tracked on paths that don't prepare them for transfer into 4 year institutions. English Language Learners often undocumented are also mislabeled "special needs", sometimes they are erroneously thought to have speech impediment and other tracked disabilities simply because they are not english dominant and administrators misunderstand this.

The parents of undocumented parents earn far less income and work longer hours than citizen parents leading to low parent involvement and behavioral as well as academic problems that push these students out of school or into poor grades and bad tracks. The lack of federal financial aid for those who somehow make it past all these other barriers means youth who are academically prepared for college still lack access to college. Many undocumented youth have family commitments that result from their parents status that don't allow them to pursue a higher education including single parent homes where the eldest has to pay parental roles or be a wage earner.

These stories and these youth who will never see a college classroom, account for over 62% of the 2.1million undocumented youth being talked about in the DREAM debate. They are the majority, the most affected, and they are almost completely absent from the dialogue. We are focusing on the voices of the relatively small slice of this community that is very articulate, educated, and already in or clearly pipelined toward a four year university. I admire them, I support them and I can understand very clearly why being with them and seeing their valiant efforts day in and day out someone as committed to justice as you, would stand with them.

This is exactly why I stand with the other 62%. I admire them and I support them because they have a strong voice as well, they have a lot to say and they are also valiant. Every day they face this adverse system that pushes them literally out and they do so with courage. Yesterday one of these valiant youth told me enraged how he feels when even teachers speak of "illegals". He responded "I may have come from Mexico but they came from England, so why am I the Illegal."

These moments of push back and resistance have made me fall in love with these young folks that no one seems to want to listen to. They are not as fluent and articulate as some of the DREAMer voices in english. They are not without "baggage". They are often not college bound. But they have dignity, humanity and incredibly valuable things to teach us as well.

I learned a lot from your open letter, Paul, even if some comments felt unfair. I am sure this letter will contain some language that you to will take issue with. But I also hope that the DREAMers and you too, will find some value in my perspective and my call for inclusiveness and unity.

Given that I absolutely admire and stand in solidarity with the intentions of the DREAMers if not the current DREAM Act options for 62% of our youth. Given that I want to build with this new vanguard of the freedom fight and with you and your important contributions to this fight. Given that our movement can be stronger if it includes more voices especially the voices of the majority and the most affected among undocumented youth. I want to propose that we try to move forward together incorporating each other's voices and concerns. I want to invite the DREAMers to meet with the youth I love and hear their stories, concerns and needs. Most importantly I want to ask that the DREAM movement would invite us to their table where we would be honored to sit and better STAND with them and organize with them for all of our collective rights and freedom.

At that table we will have to have difficult conversations about wether federal financial aid such as pell grants is negotiable, and wether community service and vocational paths are negotiable, and lastly what the military component means to 62% of the youth who are most affected and for whom college may not be an option.

I am sure there will be some compromises, I don't expect all of our issues to unilaterally shape the debate. But I do hope they can get a fair hearing, without name calling and with sophisticated understanding of what is at stake and sufficient voice for the major stake holders.

I think I have laid out the case for why the voices of the youth I love and of veterans of color like myself deserve to become part of the dialogue. These are the most affected youth and the largest part of the undocumented youth community and to exclude them would betray the spirit of this struggle for justice.

As long as a military component is on the table then voices from young vets of color are critical to raise the issues that we understand are at stake. Paul, I know and appreciate that you were able to follow the footsteps of Zinn and Fanon and to a large extent so have I even if I am still low-income living in affordable housing and not your typical success story. And you are right that those experiences shaped me and politisized me as they did you and our elders you mention.

However this experience is the exception not the rule. For every Zinn there are thousands of homeless vets. For every Fanon there are thousands of veteran suicides (18 a day as we speak). For every story like mine there are dozens of stories like Jesus Suarez del Solar who got his citizenship through the military but post humorously after bleeding to death in the harsh Desert lands of Iraq.

So our stories and our ability to raise the stories of the homeless, the war casualties, the suicides and all manner of injury that the military can inflict (on our Arab brothers and sisters as well) have to become a part of the DREAM dialogue so long as a military component is considered.

Hoping to build bridges and unity like what we saw in the marches of 2006. Back then I marched with a diverse group of folks from the community and allies from Tijuana to California raising the issues of criminalization and militarization of the Latin@ community.

Our March stopped of at Cesar Chavez's Grave to let him know he can rest in peace and power because his struggle continues and it stopped at recruiting stations not to advertise the military path to our community but to challenge it.

In struggle and toward comm-UNITY,

Pablo Eduardo Paredes

Latin@ Veteran and Undocumented Youth Ally

American Friends Service Committe

Youth and Militarism Program and Human Migration and Mobility Network

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Latino Youth Defines DREAM Act as a De Facto Military Draft

By VAMOS Unidos Youth

We write this statement to raise our voices as Latino youth working and living in the Bronx, New York in opposition to the DREAM ACT as it stands. We demand that we return to our original DREAM ACT that had a community service option instead of a military one. The military has been losing their numbers due to the multiple wars the US has begun. The DREAM ACT would hand us over on a platter to fight these unjust wars. The DREAM ACT has been warped over the years to draft Latino youth into the military, as they need more and more soldiers to fight their wars.

We have been living under harsh conditions. Our communities have been historically underprivileged, with militarized streets, schools that seem more like jails than educational institutions, and poverty that pushes people to desperation and sadness. We have grown up with the trauma of having our family members and friends detained, jailed, and deported. But we are strong and determined, so we keep onwards. We have stood next to our parents as they worked as street vendors, as they were ticketed, arrested, and sometimes assaulted by police for trying to make a living. We, as youth, have also been ticketed and arrested alongside our parents. We have come to understand what it is to be humiliated and then stand and fight for what is right, what is principled, what is just. Our parents’ unrelenting strength to fight for us and their rights have taught us to always stand up for what is right and never sell out.

We have asked ourselves “Is the DREAM ACT an advantage or disadvantage for us as immigrant youth?” Many of us were excited about the possibility of getting documents and finally being able to be recognized as human beings, be able to get a job, an education, and help our families. Along with our teachers and mentors we delved into community organizing and becoming politically conscious. We began learning about our history and our people’s resistance. We then expanded to other cultures and histories and began to appreciate them. We marched side by side with youth from all over the world including South Asia and the Middle East. We saw that within our hearts there was no difference, and enjoyed each other’s company and diversity. Our spirits were momentarily paralyzed when we began learning about the effects of war and how their families and communities had been destroyed. We began to ask ourselves “How can we stop these wars, how can we help?” Our political education allowed us to see through the military propaganda and the army recruiters in our blocks and schools. Speaking to our peers we saw how the military was using them to fight wars that didn’t concern us and killed our friends. This forced us to look at the DREAM ACT a lot closer.


In order to qualify for the DREAM ACT you have to have migrated before the age of 16 and have proof of residence in the United States for five consecutive years since the date of arrival. Also, you have to have graduated from high school or have a GED. This would eliminate many of our older youth, those that did not finish high school, and recent arrivals. You must then complete the following:
Serve two years in the military, or;
Finish two years of bachelor’s program or higher degree in the US.
What happened to the community service option that the original DREAM ACT contained? Why did our supposed advocates allow for the removal of the community service option? Was it because it became in this form the DREAM ACT became winnable? At what expense?

Two Years of College

The first option on the DREAM ACT is to go to school for at least two years; this is great for people who can afford the high tuition rates. But what about those of us who do not have enough money for the tuition, the books, and personal expenses? Also let’s not forget about our families who have more than one undocumented child who needs to go to school to get their papers.

DREAM ACT proponents say that most people will not go to the military, that they can afford school if we work. Unfortunately those folks are distanced from our realities and don’t understand our economic hardships. We broke down the cost of each year in school without the aid of Pell Grants or Financial Aid for attending two years of a four years University; our calculations were the following for a university in Ohio, which does not allow in-state tuition for undocumented students:

Cleveland State University: Out of State
12 Credit Hours - $7,884.00 X 2 = 1 Year = $15,768.00 X 2 years = $31,536.00
Expenses for Students Living at Home with their Parents = $6,568.00 X 2 years = 13,136.00
GRAND TOTAL = $44,672.00
Only 10 states allow for undocumented students to pay for in-state tuition. The majority of undocumented youth would have to pay amounts as stated in the example above. We are lucky to be in New York as it is one of the states that allow undocumented youth to apply for in-state tuition. At the same time we understand that by accepting the terms under the DREAM ACT most youth would not have the same opportunity we do here in New York. Undocumented youth in states like North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, New Mexico would be forced to take the military option in large numbers as they would not be able to pay the high prices of education. For this reason we do not support the DREAM ACT.

Two Years of Military Requirement

We, the VAMOS UNIDOS YOUTH, do not support the DREAM ACT due to the military component. The fact that it has been introduced as a defense appropriation bill adds insult to injury. The DREAM ACT is a de facto military draft, forcing undocumented youth to fight in unjust wars in exchange for the recognition as human beings, a Green Card. This is a trick by the politicians, Democratic Party, and DC immigration advocates. The same way many supposed “advocates” for immigrant rights sold out the community with Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), they now sell us out with the DREAM ACT. We stand against any militarization- whether it is of the border, our communities, or our status. We will not kill innocent people in exchange for Green Cards.

Our parents have firmly stated in their fight for immigration reform, “We will not accept papers tainted with the blood of our people still crossing the border and dying,” in regards to CIR and it’s militarization of the border component. We say the same “We will not be used for the wars of the corporations and the rich in any part of the world in exchange of blood-stained immigration papers.”

We make a call out to all community organizations and allies to stand firmly on what is principled, against the DREAM ACT if it contains the military provision. Our fight will not be won in one or two years. We are prepared to organize our communities and struggle for many years. We cannot negotiate out our lives, our dignity, and the lives of others. We must rethink our strategies and take control away from the DC immigration advocates which have shown us they don’t have our interest. They have watered down good legislation at a very high cost to the community. Our communities need to decide and take control. We stand with our brothers and sisters affected by wars; we feel their pain and desperation. We will not be used to decimate other countries and their people. Thus, we stand together against the DREAM ACT with the militarization component and fight for what is principled, even if it takes us a very long time.

In Solidarity,


VAMOS Unidos: Vendedores Ambulantes Movilizando y Organizando en Solidaridad (Street Vendors Mobilizing and Organizing in Solidarity), is a Bronx, NY, community-based social justice organization founded by low-income Latina/Latino immigrant street vendors.

DREAM Movement: Challenges With the Social Justice Elite's Military Option Arguments and the Immigration Reform "Leaders"

Tuesday 21 September 2010
by: Jonathan Perez, Jorge Guitierrez, Nancy Meza, and Neidi Dominguez Zamorano
t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

. . . We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

-- Martin Luther King, Letter From the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

We are undocumented youth activists and we refuse to be silent any longer. The DREAM Act movement has inspired and re-energized undocumented and immigrant youth around the country. In a time when the entire immigrant community is under attack, and increasingly demoralized, stripped of our rights, the DREAM movement has injected life, resistance and creativity into the broader immigrant rights struggle.

Until we organized this movement, we had been caught in a paralyzing stranglehold of inactivity across the country. We were told that the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, or CIRA, was still possible. Yet we continued to endure ICE raids and we witnessed the toxic Arizona SB1070. Meanwhile, CIRA had lost bipartisan support and there was no longer meaningful Congressional or executive support for real reform.

Youth DREAM Act activists stopped waiting. We organized ourselves and created our own strategy, used new tactics and we rejected the passivity of the nonprofit industrial complex. At a moment when hope seemed scarce, we forged new networks of solidarity. We declared ourselves UNDOCUMENTED AND UNAFRAID!

Mirroring the experiences of Dr. King and the youth activists of Birmingham, our allies encouraged us to avoid implementing "controversial" tactics.[1] We were told to wait for a better time in the future where immigration reform would again become plausible.

Just as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee followed the advice of Ella Baker to create their own organization independent of older organizations, we did the same. The nonprofit organizations and politicians pushing for Comprehensive Immigration Reform continued to try to dictate what our actions should be. We felt that a barrier in achieving legalization was the Nonprofit Industrial Complex.

The Nonprofit Industrial Complex is a network of politicians, the elite, foundations and social justice organizations. This system encourages movements to model themselves after capitalist structures instead of challenging them.[2] In this manner, foundations control social movements and dissent; philanthropy masks corporate greed and exploitation. We reject this by functioning as donation-only and volunteer-based organized groups controlled by the communities we are a part of.

We are building the DREAM Movement action-by-action, city-by-city, and campus-by-campus. In the spirit of the Freedom Rights and Chicano movements of the 1960s, we have decided to put our bodies and lives on the line. Repeatedly, undocumented youth have risked the threat of physical violence, incarceration, and deportation by engaging in acts of non-violent direct action in order to push the immigrant rights movement forward.

On August 19, DREAM Team LA and OC DREAM Team, in collaboration with the Dream Is Coming, a national campaign, held the first DREAM Act town hall organized and led by undocumented students. The objective of the town hall was to address major questions and concerns about the legislation as well as to discuss the strategy and tactics that undocumented youth have embraced. One main goal was to create a safe space for undocumented youth and allies to talk about the shift in the DREAM Movement.

More than 250 people attended the town hall, and more than 50 people joined through live stream from all over the nation. More than half of the participants stayed all the way until the end of the evening at 10:30 pm, after we responded to the last question from the audience and finished all announcements from different members of the Los Angeles community.

For the first time undocumented youth publicly shared their work and experiences as UNDOCUMENTED, QUEER AND UNAFRAID activists in the nation. Also, the event allowed these same youth to address the critiques from friends and allies regarding the military service option of the DREAM Act.

The energy in the church was overwhelming and exciting. We knew that in this place we would need to conduct painful but necessary conversations. We invited everyone who is part of our larger community -- especially those who we know are not in full support of our work or the military service option of the DREAM Act, which is part of the current language of the bill.[3] We had decided that instead of waiting for the people in the audience to ask the difficult questions, we would pose those same questions there in public, just as we do in private and in our organizing spaces.

We accomplished this through a panel of all UNDOCUMENTED AND UNAFRAID activists. Our panelists were: Lizbeth Mateo, one of the arrestees in Senator John McCain's office in Arizona on May 17, 2010; Yahira Carrillo, another arrestee from the Arizona action on May 17, 2010 who also identifies herself as a queer woman; Carlos Amador, one of the many hunger strikers from California who organized a 15-day hunger strike for the Dream Act in front of the Senator Dianne Feinstein's office and Jorge Guiterrez, a queer man who also participated in the 15-day hunger strike in California that started July 19, 2010.

Many of the straight men who took the mic had strong critiques of the DREAM Act and its military provisions. They questioned our support for an admittedly less-than perfect piece of legislation. Each time, the panelists responded candidly to questions as well as concerns about the DREAM Act and our movement.

This experience was uplifting as well as frustrating for us. We did not want to silence anyone in that space, nor did we dismiss anyone's critiques or comments, but we left that space feeling like it was necessary for us once again as UNDOCUMENTED AND UNAFRAID activists to put forward our responses and reactions to these critiques, with the purpose of creating dialogue in order to move forward. After a number of conversations with fellow DREAMers, we felt that we needed to challenge the attitudes of privilege and self-righteousness that we believe fuel the opposition to our movement.

Our so-called allies need to realize that they are not undocumented and, as such, do not have the right to say what undocumented youth need or want. Our progressive allies insist in imposing their paternalistic stand to oppose the DREAM Act and tell us that this is not the "right" choice for us to acquire "legal" status in this country. We wonder: Who are they to decide for us? And by what criteria do they deem the DREAM Act not to be the "right" legislation for undocumented youth to become "legal" in this country?

The passage of California's AB 540 in 2001, a bill that allowed undocumented youth to pay in-state tuition for college, and the later creation of the DREAM act, gave our communities hope; they held out the promise that legalization was eventually possible. A decade later, we face a horrific anti-immigrant backlash, and tens of thousands of our sisters and brothers are languishing in prisons; untold numbers of human beings have been killed or have died of thirst during increasingly dangerous border crossings.

Many of us have been organizing in other movements such as the anti-war, LGBTIQ, and labor movements. We have also studied and learned through experience and academics from past freedom movements. We learned to see our struggle in a global perspective and historical context -- that attacks on undocumented immigrants and refugees of color are not unique to the United States. We see the same thing happening in Europe, Oceania, Asia and Africa. We understand that we are working within an imperialist nation. There is a long history of Nativism in the United States and it continues to manifest itself with laws that criminalize immigrant communities and communities of color.

The DREAM movement has come under criticism by liberal and conservative critics alike. We face racist, sexist, homophobic attacks from the right wing. From the left, many peace activists and immigration-rights advocates disapprove of the DREAM Act because of its so-called military option. Meanwhile, CIRA supporters across the country remain largely silent in this debate and fail to heed the voices of undocumented youth activists. Seemingly impervious to the growing anti-immigrant hatred sweeping this land, some of our former allies began advocating for a watered-down Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that would lead to more enforcement and criminalization of our immigrant communities and communities of color.

Today, nearly two million so-called undocumented students languish in our society. Some of these students are high school honor students who are prevented from attending college; those who can attend college often cannot receive scholarships or in-state tuition simply because of where they were born. Countless thousands are prohibited from learning skills and acquiring the education they need to survive in this society.

The DREAM Act would provide a crucial opening for these immigrants, and yet many people of good faith oppose the DREAM Act because of the military option added to the bill by Senator Feinstein. They argue that the DREAM Act is a Pentagon-supported bill that is dressed up in a pro-education and pro-immigrant costume. We believe that progressive politics should be based on facts and not conspiracy theories.

It has been argued that the military option will funnel thousands of young people into the military. We disagree with this argument. Military recruitment in our communities will continue whether the DREAM Act passes or not. In 2007, the DREAM Act did not pass, but the military recruitment in communities of color continued unabated. Moreover, who, in this current anti-immigrant climate would step forward to sponsor a reconfigured DREAM Act without a military option? A military option could easily be introduced as a stand-alone bill. Let's be honest. We all know that the Democratic Party refuses to be painted as "unpatriotic," especially with mid-term congressional races looming. A DREAM Act shorn of its military option, sadly, is an impossible proposition.

Why should undocumented immigrants pay the price of US militarism while more privileged groups in society see their interests looked after? The undocumented youth movement -- unlike some other causes -- is led and shaped by the people most directly impacted. The social justice elite have posed the argument that because of the current state of public education it is unwise for the DREAM Act to pass because it will force undocumented youth into the military. So should we wait until there are no more wars? Should we wait until our public school systems are perfect?

Should we wait until a perfect politician introduces the perfect bill? Or should we wait until there are another 1.8 million undocumented youth with little chance at a successful future. We say hell no! We are tired of our third-class status, and we are tired of the social justice elite dictating what we can and cannot do, all the while speaking on our behalf and pretending they represent our interests.

The nonprofits, think tanks, the privileged and self-righteous activists who comprise the social justice elite have had their hand in stopping the DREAM Act from being introduced, and at times, they have been more vicious than the right.


From the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the freedom movements in the 1960s and to the Chinese student rebellions in Tiananmen Square, youth have always been at the forefront of successful movements and radical social changes. Unfortunately, it seems that we have not learned from this rich heritage of youth speaking truth to power. Because if we accept and embrace the current undocumented student movement, it means the social justice elite loses its power -- its power to influence politicians, media and the public debate. The power is taken back by its rightful holders.

We have challenged the Nonprofit Industrial Complex, the Prison Industrial Complex and the Military Industrial Complex. Many of the DREAMers have organized in high schools and universities against military recruitment and done anti-military recruitment education with thousands of women and youth of color. Undocumented students have shown the country and the world that we are more than capable of leading a new freedom-rights movement in this decade.

DREAMers face unique challenges in this country: We must support our families while going to school; we must pay for college while we organize and at the end of the day, our allies attack us. Some of us have made the sacrifice and risked deportation willingly. The DREAM movement is a genuine large-scale movement; we have taken from what happened in the '60s, learned from it, fine-tuned it to our current context and relentlessly moved forward.

For all of these reasons and more, undocumented students and our allies have launched a struggle that will culminate in a victory for immigrant rights in the United States. In order to understand the current situation, we must look to the students who are shaping this movement. We must look to Yahaira, Mo, and Lizbeth, the students who staged a sit-in in McCain's office. We must look to the "Trail of Dreams": Felipe, Gaby, Carlos, and Juan. We must look to DREAM Team LA and Orange County DREAM Team, groups of young activists for the DREAM Act. We must look to the women and men in the DREAM movement, undocumented queer and transgender young activists with emerging ideologies that challenge the capitalist, heterosexual and misogynistic systems here in the United States.

We are not only the undocumented youth that live in the United States; we are the displaced youth from across the Americas, Asia, and Africa. We were displaced by American-funded violence, wars, and the expansion of capitalism through globalization.

We have lived with fear since arrival and our exploitation runs rampant because we are also women, queer and transgender people of color. For those of us undocumented youth who also identify as queer, coming out is a something we must do twice. We come out as queers to our families and friends and then come out again as undocumented in this country.

We can no longer be afraid of revealing our status or identities. We must fiercely challenge privilege and oppression, whether located among allies or the opposition. We hold the right to self-determination of those most affected by the US empire's oppression. We are in a struggle to regain what has been taken from us: our dignity, our freedom and our spirituality. Our fight is for the legalization of all people, and the DREAM Act is a vehicle towards that goal.

We, the undocumented youth have shaken the social justice struggle to the very core . . . and we have so much more to offer. We know that our acts of liberation and hope will generate more acts of liberation and hope.

"Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar"

(Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks)
-- Gloria Anzaldua

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Foreword by Rev. Bernice A. King (Harper Collins; 1st edition (August 1994).
[2] INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, eds., The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (Cambridge: South End Press, 2007).
[3] For more information on the DREAM act, see the DREAM Act portal at:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Behind the Latest Version of the DREAM Act: Is This Legislation We Should Support?


"When that [DREAM Act] passes, millions of children will be able to get the education they need to contribute to our economy," stated Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) during his press conference announcing that he would include the DREAM Act in the Defense Authorization Bill on September 21. Almost immediately, Republican leaders came out against the move in spite of the commonly held belief that the DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation. "I intend to block it, unless they agree to remove the onerous provisions," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

While Republicans are accusing Democrats of playing partisan politics in an effort to maintain their footing this coming November, mobilizations have been taking place across the nation for months now in an attempt to get Congress and the Obama administration to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). Immigrant youth, especially, have trekked across state lines, protested in congresspersons' offices, and flooded Congress with letters urging them to pass the DREAM Act. Called DREAMers, they have come out and risked being deported in the hope of gaining legal status.

What is the DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act has been floating in Congress for nearly a decade now, first introduced in 2001 as H.R. 1918 and S. 1291 in the House and Senate respectively. In 2007 Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) filed to place the DREAM Act as an amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense Authorization Bill (S. 2919), but it failed to pass. A last-ditch effort was made later that year by introducing the DREAM Act as a stand alone bill, nevertheless, the 60 votes required to avoid a filibuster were not there.

The version now being included as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill by Sen. Reid was introduced in March of 2009 by senators Durbin (D-IL), Lugar (R-IN), Reid (D- NV), Martinez (R-FL), Leahy (D-VT), Lieberman (I-CT), Kennedy (D-MA), and Feingold (D-WI).

If passed, the DREAM Act of 2009 would give young undocumented immigrants from any country of origin who are under 35 years old and who arrived in the United States before age 16 the opportunity to gain legal status by either attending college or joining the military. However, only those who have obtained a high school diploma or GED and have not left the United States in the last five years are eligible to gain conditional Legal Permanent Residency (LPR).

Once eligibility has been ascertained, LPR status would be granted on a conditional basis and valid for six years, during which time the student would be allowed to work, go to school, or join the military. After six years, if the person has shown good moral character and either completed a minimum of two years of higher education toward a bachelor's degree or higher, or served in the military for two years, the conditional status would be removed and full LPR would be granted.

With any chance of passing CIR now declared dead by many Democratic leaders, including President Obama, we are being told the DREAM Act is Plan B , the only viable proposal for addressing the immigration issue. Just last week Univision's Jorge Ramos proclaimed that there will be no legalization for the 11 million undocumented this year. Nor, perhaps, next year -- nor the next. Senator Reid, himself, said, "I know we can't do comprehensive immigration reform -- I've tried to. I've tried so very, very hard."

A Rift Has Developed

But although the DREAM Act has unconditional supporters in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and other Latino organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), in particular, a rift has begun to appear within the movement that has emerged around the DREAM Act.

Community groups like San Diego's Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) has opposed the armed forces provision of the DREAM Act for years. More recently, even the young activists who have participated in acts of civil disobedience across the country have not only questioned the military component but the way in which the Democrats are contributing to the argument that the parents are criminals who broke the law by crossing the border illegally in an attempt to provide a better life for their children. "They are vilifying and criminalizing our parents and [arguing] that undocumented students shouldn't pay for the sins or illegal behavior of their parents," wrote Raul Al-qaraz Ochoa, one of the protesters arrested at Sen. McCain's office in Arizona this summer.

Still, the majority in the movement uncritically supports the DREAM Act because they believe its passage will benefit millions of young undocumented immigrants while also serving as a stepping stone for CIR down the road. If we examine the legislation closely, however, some issues arise with these arguments.

First, the simple fact that Democrats are attaching the DREAM Act to the defense bill speaks to its militaristic orientation; the DREAM Act forms part of the Department of Defense's FY2010-12 Strategic Plan to help the military shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force.

According to UC San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal, the DREAM Act was largely developed by the Pentagon. One need only read Senator Durbin's testimony. It was not about education. It was strictly about making a pool of young, bilingual, U.S.-educated, high-achieving students available to the recruiters.

This is further evidenced in the 2009 policy report "Essential to the Fight: Immigrants in the Military Eight Years After 9/11," authored by Margaret D. Stock, retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. In it she writes, "Despite the important contributions of immigrants to the military in the ongoing conflicts, one proposal that would allow more immigrants to serve in the armed forces [DREAM Act] has made little headway in the past eight years. ... Because attending college is a very expensive proposition, ... joining the armed forces is a likely choice for many of the young people who would be affected by the bill (p. 8).

Stock concludes, "Without them, the military could not meet its recruiting goals and could not fill the need for foreign-language translators, interpreters, and cultural experts. Given the unique and valuable functions that immigrants often perform in the military, they are a critical asset to the national defense. Immigrants have been and continue to be essential to the fight" (p. 11).

At the same time, by attempting to pass the DREAM Act before the November mid-term elections, Democrats seek to rally support from Latinos who comprise the largest sector of the immigrant community and who are a key voting bloc for the Democratic Party.

It was this voting bloc that handed Obama the presidency in 2008, based largely on the promise that he would deliver CIR during his first year in office. Having failed to do so -- and, on the contrary, having increased the repression on the undocumented community through raids, employer sanctions, and the militarization of the border -- more and more Latinos have grown increasingly discontented with the Democratic leadership.

It is difficult to imagine a Democratic victory in Congress without the Latino vote. The Democrats know this and are offering the DREAM Act as appeasement, claiming there is no political will to pass CIR. Yet, it took no effort to pass the $600 million border militarization bill this past August.

Other Objections

Second, according to Sen. Reid and other proponents, passage of the DREAM Act would benefit millions of undocumented immigrants. Although it is difficult to know the exact number of undocumented youth in the United States, the Migration Policy Institute's 2010 study "Dream vs. Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries" claims that there are approximately 2.1 million who could potentially be eligible.

However, not all would qualify for LPR status. Only an estimated 825,000, or 38%, would be able to gain full LPR. For those undocumented youths who do not meet the requirements after the six years of conditional status there is no guaranteed that they would not be deported. The legislation also authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to share information with other law enforcement agencies.

Third, the choice of attending an institution of higher learning, as opposed to joining the military, in order to qualify for LPR is only feasible for a small number of undocumented youth. For example, Latinos in general, compared to other ethnic groups have the lowest number of college attendees -- only 1.9%, compared to 3% for Blacks, 3.8% for whites, and 8.8% for Asians. The national high school drop-out rate among Latinos is around 40%. In California the drop-out rate is 36%.

Moreover, a significant percentage of the 1.5 generation coming to the United States without papers arrive with very little schooling and come to work to contribute to the family income. These undocumented youth would not even qualify for conditional LPR status.

The college option of the DREAM Act must also be looked at within the new higher education framework where the cost of attending college becomes another barrier. Throughout the country -- and in California especially -- the tuition or university fees at public universities have skyrocketed ... a whopping 32% increase at the UCs and CSUs last year and 54% at community colleges; not to mention the cap enrollments and repeal of affirmative action also affecting ethnic minorities.

Under the DREAM Act students would not be eligible for federal financial aid -- only loans and work study. Moreover, the DREAM Act gives states the prerogative to decide if these students qualify for in-state tuition (repealing Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996).

De-Facto Choice to Gain LPR Status

The military option then becomes the de-facto choice to gain LPR status for most undocumented youth. There are already non-citizens in the armed service who are seeking citizenship for themselves and their loved ones through fast track established by former President Bush in 2002 as part of the War on Terror.

However, as Professor Mariscal points out, the promise of a green card is not always assured. Military service does not guarantee citizenship and tragically for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, posthumous citizenship [is] a purely symbolic gesture with no rights or privileges accruing to the deceased person's family.

With the continued occupations in the Middle East and elsewhere, as well as the increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, it is very likely that those joining the military under the DREAM Act will see combat. And although the DREAM Act asks for only two years of military service, we must be aware that there is no such thing as a two-year military contract. In 2003 Congress passed the National Call to Service Plan as part of the Military Appropriations Act. This mandated that all of the services must create an enlistment program offering a two-year active duty enlistment option, followed by four years in the Active Guard/Reserves, followed by two years in the Inactive Reserves. This is a total of eight years.

If that were not enough, low-income and youth of color tend to see most of the direct combat. Professor Mariscal writes, "Latinos and Latinas are bunched together in the private and corporal ranks (or lowest ranks) and therefore are among the most likely to receive hazardous duty assignments. ... [In 2001 they] made up 17.7% of the Infantry, Gun Crews, and Seamanship occupations in all the service branches. Of those Latinos and Latinas in the Army, 24.7% occupy such jobs and in the Marine Corps, 19.7%.

It is important to remember that Latinos make up only 13.5% of the general population. In contrast, in the elite and most highly romanticized military special operations units such as the Navy Seals, people of color are virtually non-existent given the stricter educational admissions criteria.

For a DREAM Act With No Military Strings Attached!

The DREAMers and the movement they have built together with their allies have fueled the immigrant rights movement in spite of other setbacks like SB 1070. Undocumented youth are tired of the vast inequities and limited opportunities afforded to them because of their citizenship status.

Although the DREAM Act would only benefit a small number of undocumented immigrant youth, what the DREAMers are fighting for -- the right to education for all, the right to have a job that helps our families get out of poverty, the right to live without fear of incarceration and deportation, the right to keep families together -- is the right thing.

All of us in the immigrant rights movement and our allies should applaud and support their cause and denounce the Democrats for attempting to usurp the struggle. We should not be asked to assist in the continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or in any new militaristic adventures in Latin America, Iran, or elsewhere in order to obtain papers for our immigrant brothers and sisters. Nor should we have to subjugate those who look like us in foreign lands or on the border.

We in the immigrant community are not discouraged by the lack of political will in Washington. We will continue to fight for a new and just immigration policy based on human and workers' rights.
More than ever, it is necessary to (re)build an independent mass movement for legalization. It will take huge mobilizations and strikes like those that took place in the spring of 2006 to force the ruling elite to grant our just demands.

We must champion the DREAMers movement -- that is, a real DREAM Act without any militaristic strings attached -- while also calling for:

- No to the militarization of the border; tear down the Wall of Shame!
- Stop the raids and deportations!
- No to the E-Verify Law and to the criminalization of immigrant workers!
- No to Guest Worker Programs!
- No to the separation of immigrant families!
- Repeal the "Free Trade" and Military pacts in Latin America (including the dismantling of all U.S. military bases in the region)!

As immigrant rights activist Raul Al-qaraz Ochoa aptly wrote, "Strong movements that achieve greater victories are those that stand in solidarity with all oppressed people of the world."

P.O. Box 40009
San Francisco, CA 94140
Tel. 415-641-8616

Letter to the DREAM Movement: My Painful Withdrawal of Support for the DREAM Act

Septiembre 18, 2010
by Raúl Al-qaraz Ochoa

I have supported the DREAM Act, despite my critiques and concerns over the military service component. In fact, I was one of the arrestees at the sit-in at John McCain's office in Tucson, AZ; an act of civil disobedience where four brave undocumented students risked deportation and put the DREAM Movement back in the national political stage. I made peace with my participation because I felt I was supporting the self-determination of a movement led by undocumented youth and I felt we could subvert the component that was to feed undocumented youth into the military pipeline if we developed a plan to support youth to the college pathway.

First, let me say that I applaud and admire the tireless work you have all done for the past 10 years. Your commitment and dedication parallels giant student movements of the Civil Rights era. Your persistence in organizing even when the world turned their back on you is inspiring; your creativity in tactics, visuals and media strategy is amazing. Your movement gives hope to hundreds of students I have come across here in Arizona and beyond. It is because of your grassroots efforts-not the politicians' nor the national Hispanic organizations'-that the Dream is still alive and has come this far. As an organizer with permanent resident status privilege, let me assert that your cause for access to college and path to legalization is just. No one can tell you that what you are fighting for is wrong.

With that said, I want to share how I am deeply appalled and outraged at how Washington politics are manipulating and co-opting the dream. I understand that some folks may say, "we just want the DREAM Act to pass regardless", but it is critical to examine the political context surrounding DREAM in its current state. It is disturbing to see how Democrats are attaching our community's dreams for education/legalization to a defense appropriations bill. This is grotesque in a number of ways:

1) Democrats are using the DREAM Act as a political stunt to appeal to Latino voters for the November elections because it is seen as "less" threatening than a broad immigration reform. The Democrats have the political will to recently unite and pass a border militarization bill in a matter of hours ($600 million!), yet they won't pass a broader immigration reform? And now they are up for the DREAM Act? I'm glad they feel the pressure of the Latino voting bloc, but they obviously do not care about our lives, they only seek to secure their seats in November-which by the way look very jeopardized if they don't move quickly to energize their "base". They are also seeking to secure the gay vote with the gradual repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as part of this same defense bill. All in all, insincere, token political gestures only serve to stall real justice.

2) Democrats are telling me that if I support access to education for all my people, I must also support the U.S. war machine with $670 billion for the Pentagon? Does this mean I have to support the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan? By supporting the DREAM Act, does this mean I automatically give a green light for U.S. forces to continue invading, killing and raping innocent people all over the world? This is really unfair. Here in Arizona I struggle with a climate of fear and terror. Yet even though I am so far away, I hear the cries of Arab mothers who are losing their children in U.S. sponsored bombings and massacres. There's a knot in my throat because victims of U.S. aggression abroad look just like usŠ victims of U.S. aggression at home. This ugly and twisted political system is dividing us and coercing us into supporting the funding of more bloodshed and more destruction if we want the DREAM Act to pass. Does this mean that our dreams will rest upon the nightmares of people that suffer globally? Obviously, students that call their Senators are supporting their future NOT bloodshed abroad, but we have to be responsible to the larger political implications of this.

3) Democrats are vilifying and criminalizing our parents. A really insulting argument prominently used for passing the DREAM Act that I keep hearing over and over is that because undocumented students "didn't choose to come to the U.S. to break the laws of this country" you shouldn't have to pay for the "sins" or "illegal behavior" of your parents. Are they serious?!? It is not okay to allow legislation to pass that will stand on and disrespect the struggle, sacrifice and dignity of our parents. What about blaming U.S. led capitalist and imperialist policies as the reasons that create our "refugee" populations. Our parents' struggle is not for sale. We must not fall for or feed into the rhetoric that criminalizes us or our parents. We all want justice, but is it true justice if we have to sell out our own family members along the way?

Again, I support this fight-it's part of a larger community struggle. It's personal to all of us. Passage of the DREAM Act would definitely be a step forward in the struggle for Migrant Justice. Yet the politicians in Washington have hijacked this struggle from its original essence and turned dreams into ugly political nightmares. I refuse to be a part of anything that turns us into political pawns of dirty Washington politics. I want my people to be "legalized" but at what cost? We all want it bad. I hear it. I've lived it. but I think it's a matter of how much we're willing to compromise in order to win victories or crumbs.

This again proves how it is problematic to lobby the state and put all our efforts in legislation to pass. We should know that this political route is always filled with racism, opportunism, betrayals and nightmares. History repeats itself once again.

So if I support the DREAM Act, does this mean I am okay with our people being used as political pawns? Does this mean that my hands will be smeared with the same bloodshed the U.S. spills all over the world? Does this mean I am okay with blaming my mother and my father for migrating "illegally" to the U.S.? Am I willing to surrender to all that in exchange for a benefit? Maybe it's easier for me to say that "I can" because I have papers, right? I'd like to think that it's because my political principles will not allow me to do so, regardless of my citizenship status or personal benefit at stake. Strong movements that achieve greater victories are those that stand in solidarity with all oppressed people of the world and never gain access to rights at the expense of other oppressed groups.

I have come to a deeply painful decision: I can no longer in good political conscience support the DREAM Act because the essence of a beautiful dream has been detained by a colonial nightmare seeking to fund and fuel the U.S. empire machine.

I am so sorry and so enraged that this larger political context has deferred those dreams of justice and equality that we all share.

In tears, rage, love and sorrow,


Friday, September 17, 2010

AFSC & CFIR Film Screening: Borders Lifted, Voices Raised || THIS SATURDAY 3PM!

Hope you can Join us the Saturday at 3 PM at the Starz!

“Ten stories by 6 immigrants and 4 allies from Denver combine narration, original art, music and images to share their experiences with immigration and creating community”
DATE: Saturday September 18th at 3:00 pm
LOCATION: Starz FilmCenter :: 900 Auraria Parkway, Denver, CO 80204
50% of the proceeds will benefit to AFSC
“Borders Lifted, Voices Raised” on

Purchase tickets 3 ways:
1. Buy it online here:
2. Pay at the door
QUESTIONS + INFO: T: 303-623-3464 ext.3 E: W:
Special Thanks: Center for Digital Story Telling