LatinaLista — Friends in Washington are telling Latina Lista that a group of students from California are hitting the halls of Congress in presenting their cases to Senators as to why they should vote for the Dream Act as an amendment to the Defense bill under current debate.
It’s an understatement to say that there are a lot of hopes tied up with the passage or defeat of this amendment.
Yet, this amendment should be an easy sell to Congress â€” if only they realized what they were really fighting against.
It’s ironic that those Senators who are so anti-immigrant everything aren’t even lifting their heads high enough to see how passage of this Dream Act can ultimately benefit the defense of this country, but la verdad is that it can.
(The following column was originally posted at Matt.org)
Utter the word â€œsurgeâ€ these days and people will think youâ€™re talking about the military buildup of troops in Iraq, but for a special group of young people the term is an acronym for what they want to do with their lives â€” Students United to Reach Goals in Education.
Students who belong to SURGE arenâ€™t just the typical all-American kids dreaming of a college education.
In fact, theyâ€™re not even U.S. citizens.
SURGE members comprise part of the 65,000 students who graduate from U.S. high schools each year who are undocumented immigrants. Brought into this country by their parents when they were younger, sometimes even as infants, the students have grown up with their belief system shaped by the principles of American democracy.
For all practical purposes, these children are U.S. Americans.
For some, the logical step is to continue with their education after high school. For all of them, itâ€™s time to swear a citizenship oath, publicly confirming what they feel in their hearts.
But itâ€™s not that easy for an undocumented student.
Thatâ€™s why those who belong to SURGE or R.I.S.E. (Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education) or IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access & Success) or any one of the increasing number of organizations being created on college campuses across the country focused on undocumented studentsâ€™ quest for citizenship are praying that Congress passes the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, otherwise known as the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act carries all the provisions that would make these studentsâ€™ future secure and successful: in-state prices for college tuition, eligibility for state and federal grants and scholarships and the ability to legally hold down a job while going to school.
No one has a problem with that portion of the bill but itâ€™s the other part that stipulates that those students who donâ€™t go to school must enter the military for two years in order to qualify for citizenship that has some fuming.
Itâ€™s no secret that it is expressly the military provision in the DREAM Act that makes it so attractive to politicians who otherwise think it is just another attempt at rewarding amnesty to undocumented immigrants.
In its current form, the DREAM Act is slated to be added as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill. Initial analysis shows that the DREAM Act has a very good shot at passing.
And why not? The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that if the DREAM Act were passed, it would make 279,000 people immediately eligible for college enrollment or military service. For those undocumented children who are currently between the ages of 5 and 17, the potential exists to add another 715,000 eligible young people for future enrollment or military service.
Chances are, if current trends remain the same, there will be many more young Latinos serving in the military than going off to college.
For example, out of a current population of 44.3 million Hispanics, as reported by the U.S. Census, only 3.1 million Latinos, ages 18 and older, have their bachelorâ€™s degrees.
With an educational system that has been historically deficient in meeting the learning needs of Latino students, some critics of the mandatory either-or citizenship requirement see it as an underhanded way to bulk up military forces without enacting an official draft.
Combine that with the results of a 2004 Rand Corporation survey that found 45 percent of Hispanic boys and 31 percent of Hispanic girls between the ages of 16 and 21 saying they would be â€œvery likelyâ€ to serve on active duty in the next few years, compared to only 24 percent of white males and 10 percent for white females, and itâ€™s not hard to project that the military may very well meet their recruiting goals after a couple of years of falling short of those objectives.
If ever there was an example of that proverbial saying â€œbetween a rock and a hard place,â€ this is it, especially since Hispanics comprise the second highest number of deaths in the Iraqi war.
But if there is a silver lining to the military requirement, itâ€™s that the threat of serving in a war zone may be enough of an incentive for some young Latinos to stay in school â€” and create a whole new surge of educated Latinos who can impact the future quality of education for Latino students, as well as, the direction of this country.