Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The DREAM Act, through the back door

A sign parodying the famous immigrant highway-crossing sign, outside a DREAM Act rally in Los Angeles last month
A sign parodying the famous immigrant highway-crossing sign, outside a DREAM Act rally in Los Angeles last month
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

The less-known military component of the DREAM Act is proving to be its saving grace this week: Yesterday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid announced that next week he will offer the legislation as an amendment to a Defense Department authorization bill, pushing the long-proposed immigration legislation toward a Senate vote.

Why add the DREAM Act to a defense bill? The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, while it is primarily seen as providing a path to legalization to undocumented youths who attend college, also allows youths who join the military to qualify for legal status.

The proposed legislation is mentioned as the "DREAM initiative" in a U.S. Department of Defense strategic plan for 2010 through 2012. From the plan, in a section that addresses recruiting goals:

2.1.1 Recruit the All-Volunteer Force by finding smart ways to sustain quality assurance even as we expand markets to fill manning at controlled costs as demonstrated by achieving quarterly recruiting quality and quantity goals, and through expansion of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program and the once-medically restricted populations, as well as the DREAM initiative.

Non-military supporters of the bill, among them the undocumented college students who stand to gain from it, have supported the bill with eyes wide open, arguing that the benefits far outweigh the costs. However, it has not stopped opponents of minority military recruiting from speaking out, fearing that undocumented youths for whom college isn't feasible may enlist out of fear of deportation.

Meanwhile, the young supporters of the DREAM Act who in recent months have staged a full-court press in drawing attention to the plight of undocumented youths - many brought here as young children - are optimistic in light of Reid's announcement. Sofia Campos, an undocumented UCLA senior and student activist, said by phone today that students have been mobilizing again to call key members of Congress.

"We've been activating all our bases and making the calls," said Campos, 20, who arrived with her family from Peru when she was six. "We're hoping it will pass next week."

Among other things, undocumented college students are unable to obtain public student financial aid.