Saturday, March 29, 2008

On "A Dream Deferred"

Each year approximately 2.8 million students graduate from US High Schools. Some will go on to college, join the military, or take other paths in life, hopefully all becoming productive members of society.

But for approximately 65,000 of them, these opportunities will never be available. Not because they lack motivation, or achievement, but because of the undocumented status passed on to them by their parents.

Lacking legal status and social security numbers, these students, raised and schooled in the US, cannot apply to college, get jobs other than those at the bottom of the economic ladder, or otherwise follow their dreams.

They grew up on American soil, worked hard and succeeded in spite of all odds, and want nothing more than to be recognized as individuals and not just the holders of a status they had no part in acquiring.

In Washington, politicians have debated the fate of these kids for more than seven years, holding lives and futures in their hands while vying for political advantage.

For these kids, and thousands more who have already managed through sheer force of will to complete their higher education, but now face a life of uncertainty and alienation, the DREAM Act is the only answer.

One would think that a bill that would allow 65,000 high school graduates yearly the opportunity to pursue higher education could garner pretty widespread support in Washington, particularly given our President's commitment to educational excellence and leaving no child behind.

And if these graduates came from a segment of society which the right-wing continually claims under-performs academically, and eventually becomes a burden on society, one would think winger politicians would be falling over themselves to support legislation that would enable these ethnic scholars to become more productive members of society ... even if to only supply more to the tax base.

OK .. just kidding .

We all know that wingers see 65,000 immigrant kids yearning for an education and say:

"No way, your American dream ends right here, we don't care that you were raised and schooled in this country, we don't care that despite all odds, you've succeeded, we don't care that you're just as 'American' as the next kid."

…all they see are "illegal aliens"

But as evidenced by some of the reader responses posted at certain "progresssive web sites" to a recently released video entitled, "A Dream Deferred", that deals with the struggle of DREAM students, it's not just wingers who cannot get beyond ignorance and stereotypes.

While many of those who commented on the video were clearly misinformed about the exact nature of the DREAM Act, the ability of self-proclaimed progressives to mimic talking points gleaned from the far-fringes of the Republican-right speaks not only to the general lack of knowledge that permeates the left, and the all-pervasive reach of right-wing framing, it demonstrates an unfortunate willingness on the part of some progressives to eagerly adopt views that are clearly the antithesis of true progressive thought.

For these students, opportunities that most children take for granted will never be available. They cannot attend college, or otherwise live up to their potential, because they lack the legal documentation to do so. Children that grew up on American soil, respected the laws of this country, and want nothing more than to be recognized for what they are; Americans …. despite the "sins of there fathers."

Even for those living in states that do allow them to complete their higher education, they leave universities after years of study and personal struggle only to face an uncertain future where advanced degrees are all but worthless without the legal documentation to join the workforce as productive members.

But it doesn't have to be this way

A simple little bill, written by Sen.Dick Durbin(D-Il), can change the situation.

At seven pages long it's got a few simple provisions that would allow thousands of kids who've worked hard and played by the rules to qualify for the exact same rights afforded every student in the nation. … the right to continue their educations and make a better life for themselves and there families.

Wingers call the legislation "just one more shamnsty" bill, because it allows those who have lived here most of there lives, and know no other home, a conditional reprieve from arrest and deportation. It allows them a chance to temporarily shrug off the yoke of their parents "misdeeds" and provides them an opportunity to prove themselves "worthy" of their adopted home.

The DREAM Act would provide nothing more than a path to legality for persons brought illegally to the United States by their parents as children, or whose parents attempted to immigrate legally but were then denied legality.

To qualify, the immigrant student would have to meet certain requirements:

  • Proof of having arrived in the United States before reaching 16 years of age;

  • Proof of residence in the United States for a least five (5) consecutive years since their date of arrival.

  • Having graduated from an American High School, or obtained a GED.

  • "Good moral character," essentially defined as the absence of a significant criminal record (or any drug charges whatsoever).

After meeting the above requirements students would be eligible to apply for a temporary six year "conditional" residence permit which would allow them to live legally in the United States. They could obtain driver's licenses, attend college as in-state residents where applicable, work legally (including obtaining a social security number), and apply for special travel documents which would allow for travel outside of the country for limited amounts of time.

During the six years of conditional status, the eligible immigrant would be required to either:

  1. graduate from a two-year community college,

  2. Complete at least two years towards a 4-year degree, or

  3. serve two years in the U.S. military.

After the six year period, an immigrant who meets at least one of these three conditions would be eligible to apply for legal permanent resident (green card) status. During their temporary time, immigrants would not be eligible for federal higher education grants such as Pell grants, though they would be able to apply for student loans and work study.

If the immigrant does not meet the educational or military service requirement within the six year time period, their temporary residence would be revoked and he or she would be subject to deportation.

During the six years, the immigrant must not commit any crimes other than those considered non-drug related misdemeanors, regardless of whether or not they have already been approved for permanent status at the end of their six years.

Being convicted of a major crime or drug-related infraction would automatically remove the six year temporary residence status and he or she would be subject to deportation.

If the immigrant meets all of the conditions at the end of the 6-year conditional period, he or she would be granted a permanent green card with the same rights as a permanent resident alien, including the right to apply for U.S. citizenship.

It's a simple enough bill. No hundreds of pages of legal-speak and loopholes like most immigration related legislation.

The qualifications are simple and cut and dry, The "benefits" and obligations easily understood. You can read a copy here to see for yourself.

But there's not much to debate here.

For progressives this choice should be clear. One either sees these children raised and schooled in America as future Americans …or sees them as nothing more than the products of their parents "misdeeds" who must be punished the rest of their lives as such.

Sign petition demanding a pledge from Clinton, McCain, and Obama to enact the DREAM Act in their first 100 days


yave said...

If supporting the Dream Act does not become a litmus test for Democratic politicians, progressives should take a hard look at the Democratic Party and ask why. Is the Democratic Party really representing the interests of immigrants? So far it's been pretty weak sauce.

And as a corollary, if you don't support the Dream Act (or at least the goals of the Act, if your pacifism prevents support of the Act in its current form, a position I respect though disagree with), you are not a progressive. Period. Call yourself something else, something more honest.

RonF said...

How is failure to grant someone a special privilege equivalent to punishment?

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