Undocumented and unafraid in LA
LOS ANGELES--Some 300 people attended a town hall meeting on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act on August 19. The event was the first time in the U.S. that undocumented students themselves organized a public forum to discuss the federal legislation pending in Congress and what it means to them.
A panel of undocumented activists, some of whom occupied Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) office in May, addressed head on the most controversial aspect of the legislation: the military option.
If passed, the DREAM Act would grant legal residence to students in college regardless of immigration status, thereby also opening employment opportunities in the U.S. after graduation for undocumented immigrants.
However, the DREAM Act would also grant legal residence to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military. Some on the left have voiced concern that residency would be yet another benefit used by aggressive military recruiters to entice immigrant youth--Latinos, in particular--to join the military.
Panelist Carlos Amador explained that he is opposed to the military option, but nonetheless said it was important to support the DREAM Act. "I'm completely against it...[but whatever happens with] the bill, recruiters will continue to recruit," said Amador. "We need to fight against the military-industrial complex."
Amador cited examples of actions against war and imperialism that activists known as the "DREAM Team LA" have participated in, including kicking military recruiters off the University of California Los Angeles campus during a career fair and helping Veterans for Peace set up the beach memorial called Arlington West.
The strength of the antiwar movement does not hinge on the defeat of the military provision; however, the strength of the immigrant rights movement relies heavily on the passage of the DREAM Act, according to the town hall panelists.
Yahaira Carrillo was one of those arrested for sitting in at McCain's office to demand he support the DREAM Act. She said the prospect for comprehensive immigration reform was bleak this year. "We can't support the bills that come up because they do more harm to our communities," she said.
Amador added that all the legislation this year so far has been related to enforcement of draconian laws rather than reform. "Congress passed $600 million for border enforcement," said Amador. "We are strongly against enforcement and against anti-immigration policies."
These activists don't see the passage of the DREAM Act as simply the "best that can be done," but rather as a part of a larger progressive struggle. "The DREAM Act is just the first step," said Lizbeth Mateo, also arrested at the sit-in. "When we pass it, I'm not going to stop."
Civil disobedience is a prominent tactic in the immigrant students' struggle. In addition to the sit-in at McCain's office, the students have also participated in a several-weeks-long hunger strike and in shutting down traffic on busy Wilshire Boulevard on July 29, the day that the anti-immigrant SB 1070 law went into effect in Arizona. "In 2007 we realized we had to be speaking for ourselves...to show the meaning of the phrase 'undocumented and unafraid,'" said Mateo. "We're ready to keep escalating."
To Jorge Gutierrez, the struggle for the DREAM Act is "a different strategy for immigration reform." He also spoke of the need for a unified progressive movement, stating, "I'm not only undocumented, I'm also queer."
In Carrillo's words, "All our struggles are tied together. We have to fight for our immigrant [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] brothers and sisters. We'll keep fighting until we have rights as human beings, not just on one platform."