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Immigration, Education and the DREAM Act

Conditions for Citizenship

by KENNETH LIBBY

The American DREAM Act is the most current piece of education/immigration reform being considered in Washington. Introduced to both the House and Senate on March 26th, 2009, the bill would allow “aliens” to gain conditional residency status for six years and eventually apply for permanent residence.  There are, however, certain regulatory provisions and some questionable motives driving the legislation.  A closer examination of the bill – particularly in light of economic, cultural, historical, and social interactions between the United States and Mexico – shows this bill is a dream for the Imperial arm of the U.S. government and corporate America.

Political action largely unfolds in a sphere that ignores cultural/historical events and interactions.  For instance, most immigration reform neglects to mention the theft of Mexican land by the American government after the Mexican-American War.  While it is improbable (and probably not desirable) that the United States will cede the stolen land, it is certainly possible to formulate some kind of agreement that could facilitate equal access to education and healthcare, establish a fair standard of living for all Americans and Mexicans, and minimize both violence and poverty. Unfortunately, such compromise is probably unacceptable if not downright offensive to the Right wing guiding both political parties.  But a form of democratic socialism provides an alternative path worth considering, regardless of the political impossibility of such reforms happening in the immediate future.

American politicians would like to offer up a slice of the American Dream to a select group of individuals.  To be eligible for the American DREAM, you must first become a conditional permanent resident.  Conditional permanent residents must:

1. Have been under the age of 16 when they entered the country and have “been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of not less than 5 years immediately preceding the date of enactment of this Act”;

2. Have exhibited “good moral character” since their application;

3. Not be in violation of existing immigration laws banning anyone with a “communicable disease of public health significance”, anyone with “a physical or mental disorder and behavior associated with the disorder that may pose, or has posed, a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others,” drug addiction, or lack of immunizations (children under ten exempted from immunizations). (Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(a) and Section 237(a));      

4. Have earned a high school diploma, GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education;

5. Be under 35 years of age.

Those over 35 are systematically excluded; so are those without a high school degree or GED; anyone with significant mental health issues is banned; and anyone over the age of 16 when they entered the country is ineligible.  The law defines these people as illegal on the American side of the border.  Conditional permanent residents must prove their worth to the American economy or military before applying for full citizenship.  You may apply for permanent citizenship if you can prove the following:      

1. You have “demonstrated good moral character;”      

2. You are not subject to deportation under existing laws

3. You have not been outside of the country for more than 365 days during their provisional citizenship (military service excluded).      

4. You have one of the following:

a. “The alien has acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or has completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States” (Section 5(d)(1)(D)(i) of S.729)

b. “The alien has served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, has received an honorable discharge.” (Section 5(d)(1)(D)(ii) of S.729)

Under the proposed legislation, the less educated (and low-wage) individuals are defined as illegal and could be removed from the country.  The potential to gain citizenship – and the rights associated under the law – is permitted only to those who contribute to the American economy or military conquests.  And America will not tolerate nor take care of the mentally ill; our healthcare corporations are too busy dreaming up new medications to enhance sexual activity or improve physical appearance in the endless search for more profits.  Older immigrants and other non-producers are systematically excluded from America, yet another case of economics and/or xenophobia trumping social cohesion and family-friendly policies.  The language used by the American legal system defines immigrants as “aliens,” a dehumanizing term that reveals much about the government’s views towards border issues.  But immigrants can become more than aliens – full American citizens – by proving their financial value to the American economy.  This prerequisite to citizenship is an all-too-apt summary of the state of American democracy: all that matters is the size of your checkbook, but we’ll save a place for you as long as you’ll hold a gun to someone else’s head.

In all fairness, tens of thousands of younger citizens currently labeled as illegal aliens would become eligible for permanent citizenship if this bill passes. I raise questions about this bill only to suggest there may be alternatives that would better serve a greater number of people – but these alternatives would require military cutbacks and redefining the rights of corporations in America.  It would require withdrawing from NAFTA, which the any country can do by giving a 6-month notice.  It would even require acknowledging the American government stole land from the country of Mexico.  It might be a little unrealistic at this point in history, but dreaming of a more humane existence is a worth dream to keep alive.

KENNETH LIBBY is a graduate student and student-teacher in the Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at KennethLibby06@GMail.com