Yesterday was a great day for basic human equality when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was finally repealed. When the policy was put in place in 1993 under President Clinton, I didn’t think much of it. Surely, the approach of allowing gays to serve in the military was the right thing, and an agreement for everyone not to ask what they didn’t want to know seemed reasonable, although I didn’t quite understand why anyone would be rejected for volunteering to serve, fight and possibly die for our country, regardless of the reason. Homosexual? You’re kidding, right? It’s not as if a musical-theatre, Kurt-from-“Glee”-like gay man was looking to put on an awful uniform available only in earth tones, be treated like a grunt until they weren’t, and sent off to godforsaken Kuwait and Iraq. If someone wanted to join the military, surely it had nothing to do with their sexual orientation – but whatever. It wasn’t until the past five years that I realized gays and lesbians were actually discharged from the military because it was determined they were homosexual. I’ve lived in New York City and Los Angeles nearly my whole life. We don’t understand. So now, at last, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone (almost). Buh-bye. John McCain, what happened to you?
Let’s discuss illegal immigration. Who has the answer to solving this problem completely? And it is a problem, let’s be honest. Anyone? A perfect plan? I thought so. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about what brings all of these foreigners to our country. Is it because they loved where they came from? Is it because they want to rape and pillage Americans? Imagine you’re born into a poor family somewhere in Central America or Mexico. When you’re old enough to look around and see your options, you think there must be a better way. You have a child, then another. You can’t make ends meet, you can’t provide for your family. You hear about people going to the U.S. because Americans will hire you to do the work they’re not interested in doing for less than minimum wage, which is still more than you’re making now. They’ll pay you cash, ask no questions. There’s a legal way to do it but you need to get your family away now. You settle in Denver. Years go by. Your kids are, for all intents and purposes, American, except they’re not. They’re interested in the American dream, except it’s complicated. You’re illegal, they’re illegal.
You brought your daughter here when she was eight years old. In the ten years you’ve lived in America, you’ve heard politicians promise to pull you out of the shadows and deport you and your family, or offer you a path to citizenship. Rhetoric plays to the emotions of those who fear you and what you’ve “taken” from them, how much you’ve cost everyday Americans, how you should learn to speak English and pay taxes. You’d pay taxes but that would require a Social Security card, which isn’t available because you’re illegal. Surely, your daughter will have an easier path. Or not.
“We must secure the border,” you hear. “We must punish those who employ illegals.” Guest-worker programs. Amnesty. Prop 187 way back in ’94. Arizona is fed up. And then along comes The DREAM Act. It’s the most sensible piece of legislation out there, addressing children who came here through no fault of their own and have made a life for themselves. Rather than live under the umbrella of fear of being deported along with their parents, the act gives these children an opportunity, if they haven’t already taken it, to go to college or join the military and then begin a path to legality. America gains a tax-paying member of society, possibly another soldier, the individual gets a chance to become anything they can imagine. It’s a win-win.
Except it’s not, because the Senate on Saturday said NO. Mostly Republicans, but a few Democrats as well, put their name in the “nay” column and to them I say, what the hell is your plan? The DREAM Act was a well-intentioned attempt to make things work. Your argument about granting “amnesty” suggests these individuals have done something wrong. They didn’t. Claiming that The DREAM Act would include criminals is downright false. Saying that these illegal immigrants are costing us billions is not true either. There were no nefarious underpinnings in this legislation. It was well-thought out and left much of the case-by-case oversight in the hands of the Secretary of Homeland Security. Read “Homeland Security”. Janet Napolitano is not looking to allow terrorists into this country on her watch.
The DREAM Act had everything to do with allowing Nancy Meza, a 23-year-old college graduate, to obtain her doctorate in education policy and become a professor. Meza came here from Mexico when she was two years old. On the face of it, The DREAM Act had nothing to do with appealing to a constituency still wary of “outsiders” who they feel are ruining the country. And yet, it failed because of just this scenario. The House of Representatives passed the legislation. Most senators voted for it. But enough narrow-minded senators did not and now it’s dead, at least for this year. Again, I ask these men and women, what’s your plan?
My friend Fernando Espuelas believes the Latino community, Latino voters, must punish those up for re-election in 2012 who voted against The DREAM Act by kicking them out of office. I’m right there with him and would take it one step further. We should all vote against them, not only because they voted against legislation that made sense (read it – it’s quite simple) but because they have no sensible, well-meaning alternative. The illegal immigrant is not the bad guy. The illegal immigrant is the person among us, like it or not, whom we must address, not by pejorative characterization and fear-based, defensive laws, but by practical, reasonable, humane consideration – for them and for us. And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any approach will ever be perfect. It won’t. Not ever.
Check out “Papers”, a documentary made about undocumented youth in this country. Loads of info at papersthemovie.com.
Peruse the roll call and see where the votes fell at Washingtonpost.com.
Read Tom Scocca’s Slate article, “Don’t Ask, Do Tell, Don’t Dream: Twelve Senators Who Oppose Immigrants More Than They Oppose Homosexuals.”
Think about the road forward.