We've been asked by more than one of our readers and supporters about how we can support the DREAM Act and hold that in tension with our opposition to war -- particularly the seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This question arises because the legislation will allow an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented youth who choose to serve for two years (or longer) in the military. Some of our ardently pacifist partners -- such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the American Friends Service Committee which are both Quaker organizations -- have decided to not support this legislation, although they ardently support comprehensive immigration reform.
At Sojourners, we made a conscious decision to support the legislation even with the military service provisions mainly because the immigrant youth whom this legislation will affect want the military service as an option. We couldn't support this legislation if it were the only option, but it is one option (the other being education). And, the immigrant youth who have been instrumental in this amazing grassroots movement want to ensure that if they or their friends choose to serve our country in the military, that this service will be honored with a path to citizenship.
Some have said that it could create a de facto draft of undocumented youth who enter the military simply as a means to secure legal permanent residency. Unfortunately, we already have a de facto draft of students who, because of their physical or social location, or the educational and job opportunities available to them (or lack thereof), feel as though their only option is to join the military. That is very real. It is part of why we already find undocumented youth serving in our armed services -- it's a job, a place to live, and meals. Until we create real national service options that would rival the job training and employment provided by the military, the military will continue to attract those with few other options.
Of course, this is not always the case, and I honor those who serve in the armed services because they believe it is their duty and calling to do so. But the vast majority of American service men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan either come from low-income communities, or are people of color, or both. That's not an accident. And, it's an issue that, as a nation, we need to acknowledge.
So I hope that regardless of your position on war in general, or our current wars in particular, you will join us in supporting the DREAM Act. It will provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who want to contribute to our country, and we want to ensure that in whatever way immigrant youth choose to serve and contribute to the good of our country, their contribution will be honored.
A vote on the DREAM Act is imminent so call your members of Congress now!
Rev. Jennifer Kottler is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Sojourners. A long-time advocate for justice, Jennifer has served in advocacy ministry for more than eight years through her work at Protestants for the Common Good (Chicago, IL), the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, and the Chicago Jobs Council.