A woman at a rally holds a sign that says "Support Higher Education"

Photo credit: Think Progress

The buzz around the DREAM Act right now is heating up.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced last week that he would offer DREAM as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, and that it would come to a vote soon.  The DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, would allow undocumented youth who came to the United States before the age of 16 a path to U.S. citizenship through through completion of either two years of education or military service.  A key part of this is that this bill would give young people a conditional permanent residency for a few years while they complete these requirements, and during this time they would be eligible for federal financial aid to complete school, which is currently a huge barrier for most undocumented youth who want to continue with school:  if you’re not a legal permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, unless you’ve got the money to pay tuition, you’re out of luck.  And this what immigrant youth advocating for the DREAM Act have been fighting for – just a chance to be able to make it in the country most of them feel is their home.

There’s one thing that really gives me pause, though, and that’s the military provision in this bill.  Just looking at the text of the bill, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything wrong – young people will presumably be able to choose whether they want to go to school or the military to gain legal permanent residency.  The thing is, I’m not quite sure this will be the case.  The United States has quite the history of coercive recruiting in low-income communities and communities of color, and it’s no secret that they’re setting their sights on immigrant Latinos to fill their ranks as the U.S. continues its war efforts.  I fear that if this bill passes, the military, with its endless budget capacity, will be out there in immigrant communities telling young people that this is the way that they can finally step out of the shadows and gain legal permanent residency.  Which, of course, will be true; but will young people know that they can also pursue higher education?  Will they know that they will be eligible for federal financial aid?  Will they know that, even if they get their legal permanent residency after two years in the military, that there’s no such thing as a two-year military contract?

From a reproductive health standpoint, I’m also concerned about the young women who will enlist.  Sexual assault in the military is alarmingly common, and only recently has the Department of Defense added emergency contraception the the list of medications available to servicemembers overseas.  What’s more, current law prohibits women service members from obtaining abortion services at military health facilities, even if they pay with their own money – meaning that women serving abroad are basically out of luck.  I’m also concerned about what will happen to immigrant women who report sexual assault by their superiors – will there be systems in place to make sure that they will be able to continue on a path to legal permanent residency?

In addition to DREAM, the current Department of Defense authorization bill includes a provision that would allow military women to obtain privately-funded abortions on base, as well as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  I really do hope DREAM passes, but I think it’s important to take into account the history that informs the way these things tend to play out and demand accountability on these fronts.  If you’d like to do that, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (full disclosure – that’s my day job) has a customizable letter you can send out doing this very thing, or you could call your Senators to do so.  This is far from being the solution – we need much more than this – but it’s a little slice of a start.

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