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.
THE DREAM ACT REVEALED
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:
1. Serve two years in the military, or;
2. 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 YOUTH
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.