DREAM Act would reduce deficit, strengthen military...and perhaps save the world


Last December, when the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act came up five votes short in the Senate, advocates began to worry that this seemingly modest piece of immigration reform, which offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who do well in college and/or serve in the military would not be able to get the necessary votes, even with Barack Obama as President. Rahm Emanuel, who served as Obama’s Chief of Staff up until last October, was reportedly criticized by some for allegedly not doing enough to support immigration reform. And frustration was high, as the community was forced to petition U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) each and every time they heard that a well-performing student, with no criminal record, like Steve Li or Mandeep was about to be sent to a country that they barely knew--taking their education and knowledge of the United States with them.

But six months later, the DREAMers (undocumented students who want to serve their adopted country) are refusing to take “no” for an answer. (In December, Steve Li won a reprieve, and last week ICE decided not to deport Mandeep, who was voted in high school as "most likely to save the world." ) And now Emanuel, who was sworn in as Chicago’s mayor in May, is raising his voice in support of the DREAM Act, which Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has been fighting for immigration reform for more than a decade, is sponsoring. And they are hoping to turn the tide and get Republicans to vote for legislation they say will reduce the deficit, build up the military and perhaps, by not deporting young U.S. trained geniuses, even save the world.

“The DREAM Act is consistent and reinforces the values of citizenship,” Emanuel said during a June 27 telephone call with reporters on the eve of the U.S. Senate’s first-ever hearing on the DREAM, which Durbin will chair June 28. “Having a DREAM Act pass at the national level will help us reinforce the right type of values,” Emanuel continued, noting that Colin Powell, a retired four-star general who was Secretary of State under President G.W. Bush, and Obama's retiring Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, both support Durbin’s bill

Rahm was joined by Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Margaret Stock, a former professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in arguing that the DREAM Act will stimulate the economy and benefit themilitary, by allowing thousands of top-performing U.S.-educated youth to give back to their adopted country rather than face deportation to countries they barely remember, where they could fall victim of forces that don’t have America’s interests at heart.

As former head of Chicago Public Schools, Duncan said he met plenty of students who “happened not to be born in America” but had excelled in public schools, only to find the door slammed shut, when it was time to go to college. “We need to summon the courage and political will to do the right thing for our country,” he said.

Duncan pointed to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Vargas, whose story about his life as an undocumented immigrant was turned down by the Washington Post, before the New York Times magazine published it this weekend. “How many other Pulitzer Prize winners are there out there?” he asked.

And former West Point professor Margaret Stock explained that many of the DREAMers have great potential as military recruits, but are barred from enlisting, even though some of them try to anyway, under the current system.  "They are patriotic, honorable and want to serve the country,” Stock said.

Some of these potential recruits won’t qualify, because they have asthma or physical impairments, Stock noted. But she predicted that those that do, will do very well, based on a Pentagon study that showed that legal immigrants who enlist outperform U.S. citizens. And that, Stock added, could help fill the recruitment gap that is coming, as the economy recovers, and the U.S.-born population continues to age.

Records show that the military hasn’t had any difficulty meeting its goals since the economy tanked, a few years ago. But Stock predicted that the U.S. Armed Forces will face a difficult recruitment climate, as the recession ends. Unless the DREAM Act, which would dramatically enlarge the number of potential military recruits, passes.  “It would allow us to tap into a pool of homegrown talent that is highly motivated to join,” she said.

Asked what the point of the June 28 hearing is, given that the Republican votes for the DREAM Act still don’t seem to be there, Secretary Duncan, who will testify June 28 on behalf of the DREAM Act with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Clifford Stanley, the Pentagon Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, replied,” to continue to raise awareness and build a groundswell of support.”

“I don’t think anyone has given up hope that we can do the right thing,” Stock added. “What may have changed is the serious talk about reducing the debt. “
According to a December 2010 Congressional Budget Office report, enacting the DREAM Act would save an estimated $1.3 billion over the next ten years. Supporters say that in addition to helping the military, the legislation would help fill 3 million job vacancies in the fields of stem cell, science and mathematics.
And as Stock pointed out, it makes no sense to deport large numbers of U.S. educated youth to foreign countries, where they risk being recruited to work for foreign governments against the U.S.’s best interests.

Asked whether new military recruits are really needed, now that Obama has announced a troop draw down in Afghanistan, Stock said that taking troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq doesn’t really reduce the global situation. “We constantly face crises in which we need the intervention of the U.S. military,” Stock said.

“We’re not turning into an era of full peace, and we expect to see a ten percent decline in pool of eligible recruits,” she said, noting that 35 percent of the U.S. citizens who sign up for the military fail medical fitness tests, another 18 percent fail because of drug and alcohol abuse, and 5 percent have criminal conduct problems.

“So, a crisis is coming, even with the draw down,” Stock continued, noting that the population of legal green card holders remains “relatively flat” even as the numbers of those who are legally here but can’t get a green card, and the numbers of those without documents but willing to serve, grows.

Stock noted that when you deport young people to countries they barely know and where they have no social safety net, they are in danger of being recruited by folks who might be at cross purposes with the United States. “The rise of MS-13 is directly related to our deportations to Central America,” Stock said. “The gang became their social network.”

Stock acknowledged that DREAM Act eligible students are “highly educated, high quality Americanized people,” and aren’t likely to become members of a gang. But they could be of interest to foreign militaries and intelligence organizations, she warned.

Asked how many non-citizens who are in the U.S. legally enlist in the military each year, Stock said about 9,000 non-citizens. But she noted that while documented non-citizens can join the military, they are however barred from becoming officers or attending West Point. “Most jobs are not open to them,” she said.  In other words, the DREAM Act doesn’t change the military’s requirements. But it would allow a much bigger number of non-citizens to join the military and eventually become citizens, which, in turn, would open more doors to them in the military, too.

And so ended the press conference ahead of Tuesday’s first-ever Senate hearing on the DREAM Act, which reportedly is being held in a large hearing room to accommodate at least 200 student supporters, including the daughter of a family of Albanian immigrants who was valedictorian of her Michigan high school class and is currently fighting deportation.

"These are young people who have that kind of exciting look in their eyes that they want to be part of the world," Durbin, whose mother was a Lithuanian immigrant, recently said. "But they can't make that first move toward the life that they want to live because they are undocumented."

Predictably, the DREAM Act is being used as a recruiting tool for conservative groups, who argue that the DREAM is tantamount to amnesty for folks whose parents broke the law. These groups are already battling state-level Dream Act legislation in Maryland, which does not provide a pathway to citizenship but provides in-state tuition for qualified undocumented students. But a poll from Opinion Research Corporation in June 2010 found that 70 percent of likely voters support the DREAM, including 60 percent of Republican likely voters.

With the next election already looming, DREAMers aren't likely to let up the pressure any time soon...so this could be an interesting political ride. Let's hope it ends well for all the young people who are currently stuck in the middle of this Catch 22-like situation.


Should be fought by American citizens. Hopefully the children and relatives of progressive politicians like Nancy Pelosi.

This argument is ridiculous.

The reason the French monkeyed with Vietnam for so long was that the foreign legion was involved more than general troops. Many SS members and various other foreigners were in the legion, so the French didn't care so much.

The reason the USA gave Vietnam a rest was that American citizens were getting killed for no good reason.

Lets let non Americans serve in our military so that the people for the war are not put out by anyone they know having to serve and getting killed.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 27, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

Shouldn't be fought at all for the most part. I can't think of one that America needed to fight in the last 60 years... at least. Can you, matlock?

But if they are fought, I agree they should be fought by the children of war-mongering and war-profiteering politicians like Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi. There's nothing progressive about taking impeachment off the table and making millions off war-related investments.

Sorry... channelling the wrong troll for a second there.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 27, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

I don't so much mind Afghanistan, but the US should have been out of that in a few weeks.

As to wars and actions the US has got involved in that have been a good idea, none come to mind.

In the long run American actions just add to the paranoia of people like Osama, so whatever supposed and imagined gain in the short run is negated in the long run by pissing off the locals.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 27, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

I am all down with not demonizing immigrants, but I believe that drawing our attention to immigration issues is another Democrat distraction from the substantive problems facing us.

Given that there are plenty of black and brown Americans who have been here for centuries and decades who are still wanting for basic sustenance, housing, food and jobs, directing our attention to immigration issues continues to accept their second class citizen status.

The level of desperation here is palpable. First, big business wants normalization of lower cost immigrant labor to provide for business the predictability and stability that leads to higher profitability. Any benefits accruing to immigrants above that are optional. That is the ONLY reason why immigration reform is seeing the light of day.

Second, tying citizenship to military service echoes and further enshrines the worst aspects of imperial history and, as others have noted, insulates taxpayers who finance the military from feeling the true human costs of endless war.

This echoes the same crap that LGBT have been facing for the past two decades, you can only have your freedom if it is on conservative terms, marriage and the military.


Given that existing Americans who have been waiting patiently for jobs and housing are falling further and further behind, I question the politics of prioritizing immigration normalization under those circumstances, via the military, at this time.


Posted by marcos on Jun. 28, 2011 @ 8:58 am

Department of Defense figures show that there are about 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel. That means that only half a percent of the U.S. population is serving in the wars, at any given time. Before the recession, the military was having difficulty making its recruiting goals--suggesting that less than half a percent of the U.S. population is inclined to serve these days. Factor in the reality that our  population is aging, that enlistment will go down in boom times, and that no one supports the draft politically, and it looks like the U.S. is facing a problem that the DREAM Act seeks to solve. And the act's college option allows DREAMers some choice in how to qualify as citizens.

Posted by sarah on Jun. 28, 2011 @ 10:39 am

Sarah, why is a lack of military recruits a problem? Why is a poverty draft a good thing? What is healthy about offering a path to citizenship to those who manage to run the gauntlet of imperial conquest?

How about if we solve the "problem" of taking care of maimed vets by creating a whole lot less of them?

Posted by marcos on Jul. 05, 2011 @ 7:32 am

I strongly believe that education is the right of every child, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that it is accessible to all. But to be honest, I am disturbed by the military component of the DREAM Act. While the bill does not mandate military service, it creates a strong incentive for undocumented immigrants to enlist.

Since only five to ten percent of undocumented high school graduates go on to attend college, most beneficiaries of the DREAM Act would likely choose the military option. Disturbingly, most of the folks who have sacrificed and died in our wars have been predominantly working class and people of color.

As a pacifist, I have really wrestled with this. I do think that the DREAM Act needs to be amended to take out the military component. However, I have had to confront the harsh reality that it's taken over a decade for us to come even close to passing this bill, and in the process it's become far more punitive and draconian.

That said, I still support the DREAM Act because I am inspired by the DREAMers themselves. Last year, I was invited to blog on the topic of immigration at AIOTB (a group blog started by Okla Elliot and Matt Gonzalez). The timing was fortunate because this was the start of an exciting new civil right movement by undocumented students in the push for the DREAM Act. Inspired by the Gay rights movement, undocumented students began "coming out" in droves. Their slogan was "Undocumented and unafraid". They were refusing to live in fear and be relegated to the shadows.

What followed in subsequent months was nothing short of astonishing. They lobbied their reps, engaged in hunger strikes (Dolores Huerta joined them), sat in at John McCain's office, risked arrest, imprisonment, and permanent banishment from their home in the US. So, I felt, if these students, are willing to stand up and risk everything, as they have, they deserve my support.

Now, many, if not most, of these students had lived in the US since they were small children. They are for all intents and purposes, Americans, save for a piece of paper legitimizing their status.

As it is now, these DREAMers are made to feel as if they don't even have a right to exist in the only country they know as their home. They are just fighting to be recognized as humans. So, I think they deserve the opportunity to have some choices in order to legitimize their status. The DREAM Act if their best chance.

Posted by Lisa on Jun. 28, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

Americans of the left and right can dream up.

America has created so much wealth that people can wonder off into the fringe right and left and create a new reality for themselves unbothered by having to fend for themselves and dealing with the real world.

Because of a god you don't like evolution, then by all means deny it and go get a flu shot. Don't like wars and whatnot, proclaim yourself a pacifist and then support terrorists. It all makes sense.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 29, 2011 @ 9:13 am

"It all makes sense."

Uh-huh. Just like your whole post. Next time, be sure to take your thorazine before you hit send.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 29, 2011 @ 10:03 am


Oh yes, I've heard all about these fiendish "terrorists" and their evil plot to take back the United States. Dios mio! Seems that there's a huge contingent of these bronze-skinned warriors massing along the border as we speak. No shit, I heard it on Glenn Beck ;)

Oh and watch out, hombre, cause word is, they are armed and dangerous. Que carajo, they got this veritable arsenal of terrifying rakes and leaf-blowers and other weapons of mass destruction! And OMG, they are coming to wack your weeds, scare your rabbits...or maybe even (gasp!) marry your daughters. Aayyyyiiii.... Run for your lives!!!!

Seriously, I'm sure there must be a place where there are no brown-skinned people to disturb your dreams of a perfect Wonderbread America.

Posted by Lisa on Jun. 29, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

Looks like Sarah Phelan is stepping up her advocacy for illegal immigrants, something for which I first noted in her Metro article, "Unlicensed to Drive" back in 2004. Looking over her articles of the last month, it appears that advocacy is becoming her full time job. What it isn't is journalism.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 29, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

So, do you really buy the idea that the mainstream corporate media is somehow objective or neutral? The average MSM journalist is little more than a stenographer for powerful interests. (witness the coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) Their idea of reporting the news is to accept a press release, without questioning it or investigating what they've been told. That's why most Americans get their info elsewhere these days.

Cornel West has a fascinating take on the role of advocacy journalism in America. Check it~


Posted by Lisa on Jun. 29, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

Your position seems to be...

Everyone but you and people who think like you is duped by the mainstream media, thats why people are not smart enough to vote your way, and thats why most Americans get there media elsewhere than the mainstream media?

What in the world are you talking about?

Posted by matlock on Jun. 30, 2011 @ 9:45 am

I don't define journalism by it source, I define it by the product. Journalism, above all requires an adherence to truth as its touchstone. Advocacy journalism is an oxymoron. Quality journalism delivers truth and understanding without regard to how that affects interested parties. It should also present the various positions on any issue in a way that the various adherents would recognize as their own. That doesn't imply endorsement of those positions. In fact a reporter could present information that undermines those positions as long they are accurately and fairly represented. That means if there is an argument adherents would make against what the reporter is presenting, readers should be able to accurately understand what that is.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2011 @ 11:10 am

Thanks for the shout out for "Unlicensed to drive" which won some awards and can be read in full here: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/02.04.04/unlicensed-0406.html

Posted by sarah on Jun. 29, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

Does anyone know of good press coverage of the actual hearing. I like this story, but it is a pre-hearing story.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 01, 2011 @ 12:07 pm
Posted by sarah on Jul. 05, 2011 @ 8:24 am

Dear SFBG Editors,

I love this paper...really I do. But since you've axed Sarah Phelan, your reporting on immigration has really deteriorated. In fact, it's nonexistent at this point. You've missed a couple of important newsworthy events and even got scooped by the SF Chronicle with an op-ed calling for Obama administration to clarify Secure Communities~


On Aug. 5, the administration finally announced that the states had no authority to withdraw from S-Comm agreements. And they indicated that the states roll was being rescinded. From now on, the feds will implement the program unilaterally.

Yesterday, protests were held in a number of cities to protest this policy and the Obama administration's expansion of S-Comm. In Los Angeles, two hundred activists walked out of hearing on S-Comm called by advisors to the program's task force. In Chicago, activists delivered a petition to President Obama’s campaign headquarters. Other demonstrations took place here in SF and in Miami, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina.

This is news that is important to the Latino and immigrant communities in SF. A progressive paper should do its best to cover it. So I sincerely hope that you will assign one of your reporters to cover this issue. Or better yet, bring back Sarah Phelan! She really is (or was) one of your best reporters. Thank you.

Posted by Lisa on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

although it's ironic that a daughter of the provokers of the revolution should be thus tainted.

But Obama is correct here. Federal law trumps State law on immigratio. If not, Arizona would have been able to fully implement their anti-illegals law. I'm guessing you would not have liked that.

You can't have it both ways.

Posted by PaulT on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

I think Obama (Bush 3) has made his reprehensible policies quite clear...to those who want to see them:

Advocates Furious at White House Over Deportation Program

Posted by Jorge Orwell 1984 on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

Enjoyed the article and Colorlines is a great site :)

Posted by Lisa on Aug. 18, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

I'm sure Sarah Phelan would have jumped on this~

"The Obama administration announced that it would review its 300,000 open deportation cases, and pull people out of the queue who aren’t a high priority for removal, people who have no criminal record and came to the U.S. as kids and pose no threat to the country’s national security."


Posted by Lisa on Aug. 19, 2011 @ 5:14 pm