The Debate on the DREAM Act and DADT

The inclusion of the DREAM Act and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as amendments to the defense spending bill in Congress has prompted wide-ranging and heated debate in the immigrant rights and LGBT movements. Here are some of the most interesting contributions to the online version of the debate:

Sherry Wolf, “Too High a Price for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Truthout, “Challenges…”

Raúl Al-qaraz Ochoa, “Letter to the DREAM Movement.”

Obviously these debates are just the latest installments in ongoing discussions on the left about DREAM and the repeal of DADT. Some activists have unequivocally opposed mobilization around both measures as representing unprincipled concessions to US militarism. My own organization, the ISO, recently came out in favor of critical support for the DREAM Act after a wide-ranging internal discussion.

Furthermore, we have to acknowledge that the political terrain is about to shift once again. It seems likely that the Republicans will capture control of at least the House of Representatives after the November midterm elections. This will present new challenges for both the immigrant rights and the LGBT movement and will undoubtedly spark fresh debates about the way forward.

UPDATE 9/23: This article appears on the Webzine section of Solidarity’s site:

Honestly I’m really quite surprised that the comrades are taking this position in continued support of DREAM, although they probably don’t have a line as an organization and the article is likely to reflect the views of a single member or supporter. Suffice it to say that I don’t agree.



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5 responses to “The Debate on the DREAM Act and DADT

  1. A bit late to this party, nevertheless, while Solidarity didn’t and doesn’t have a line on the DREAM Act, it would be incorrect to characterize the posting in question as (just) “the views of a single member or supporter.” I don’t know that it’s necessarily helpful to define that further especially since the situation in question is now past us, but my own thoughts on a perhaps technical angle of the discussion are here:

  2. Thanks. But I think it goes beyond the question of what a hypothetical socialist congressperson should have done. It actually played out on the ground in the movement. So the question was: should we be calling senators and asking them to vote for the amendment, and by extension the defense spending bill? Should the movement’s efforts be directed at voter registration and getting more Democrats elected? Or is the lesson that the Democrats are not on the side of the movement, and that advocates for the DREAM Act need to maintain their political independence?

  3. gisren

    (in disclosure I wrote that soli article\)

    I have to admit I didn’t really understand the view of some ISO comrades on this one either (support for the dream act only as a stand alone vote or added on to anything beside war spending?)

    Overall, all the reasons ISO decided to critically support as an organization the dream act I did as well, so no need to rehash that. The question was this particular motion to attach to the spending bill. So I thought – really were we going to go against the only vote on the Dream Act as an amendment (or as anything) realistically in a year or ever or suddenly deactivate our support last minute hoping that the dream acters would radicalize on a lesson that the dems didn’t take it to a vote as a stand alone bill? I just don’t think any left forces, even more advanced layers in the dream act, were in any position to intervene in a way that would show this lesson at the moment. I would love it if that were the case but I think it would and could only play out in our numbers as left abstentionism, and like I said I don’t see how it would have shifted the conversation in any positive way a few months from now. In one of Chicago’s more dynamic youth immigrant groups, the one that put a lot of sweat, militant actions and possible arrests to bring the Dream Act to a vote, a vote in the group was taken once the news came out that the Dream Act was to be proposed to the spending bill to see if on anti-war principle the Dream Act should be abandoned until a stand alone/less evil bill opportunity presented itself. The vote, not surprisingly, was 16 that still supported the dream act even as an amendment to the war spending bill, 4 against. I believe all 4 were ISO members.

    This echos responses I got as well. It’s hard to build up people’s excitement for a year, people get arrested, etc., and then abandon the call when there’s some hope it might actually pass because of the predictable bs of the political process. Now I’m hearing from young people in the dream act that certain groups are now hostile to the leftists that were active in the organization before, dropped off during the vote for the reasons we’ve discussed and now are back (I’ve heard them called opportunists, people who don’t want to get their hands dirty, etc.). I DON’T agree with those labels or that assessment but I’m trying to say this – I do not believe many people were touched by the left’s polemics against the dream act, especially since it was seen as something that could materially relieve very real threats in their current lives (deportation of students).

    But many Dream Acters can definitely radicalize and have already “moved with their feet”, it was just a tactical matter of how we treated the Dream Act as a legal tactic. I respect your points and even shared them at a certain time but my experience with immigration movement the last years told me that wasn’t the correct tactic for now, especially since the movement was so starved for any victory after years of demoralizing defeats since the ’06 rallies.

    Btw I came to this blog after reading the Gathering Forces one and really appreciated your pov on that one.

  4. It wasn’t an easy question, that’s for sure. I appreciate your perspective on it.

    The only thing I’ll add is this: it seems to me that, given the limitations of the DREAM Act itself, how it was won was going to be almost as important as the actual effects of the legislation.

    In other words, if DREAM was won through real mobilization from below it could give a boost to the movement and inspire people to push for more. I’m not sure that winning DREAM through a legislative stitch-up was going to have the same impact.

    Furthermore (and correct me if I’m wrong on this) winning DREAM as an amendment to the defense spending bill meant winning it at the expense of other sections of the movement. Didn’t the defense bill include money for further militarization of the border? And money for US operations in Central and South America?

    I guess it’s kind of academic now. What are your thoughts on the way forward from here?

  5. gisren

    “In other words, if DREAM was won through real mobilization from below it could give a boost to the movement and inspire people to push for more. I’m not sure that winning DREAM through a legislative stitch-up was going to have the same impact.”

    I believe that’s why the Dream Act stood out to many activists nationwide – it was something that came to be (as a real movement) through more militant actions, through conflict from younger activists who had to confront or detach from larger groups who didn’t think it was the right thing for the moment (instead of focusing on “comprehensive immigration reform” of the crappy variety, totally controlled by dems). The Dream Act had previously been added to defense bills and the fact that it happened this year shouldn’t have been a surprise. From the beginning, obviously there would be an unsavory aspect to the Dream Act passing as there is to all bills that go through DC. This was, after all, a movement formed around demanding passage of a legislative act.

    I don’t think as leftists we had to get too caught up in the hypotheticals of the bills – I think we could leave that to the liberals who fixate on such bills as long term solutions. We know the state is going to find a way to fund war, to fund border “security”, covert operations in other states, etc., regardless of whether one vote passes or fails one day in absence of large scale movements forcing them to concede anything. The only active movement as far as this situation I could see being effected, the only thing that would have had any impact on the ground in our movements in real terms, was the immigration movement and the dream acters.

    So I realize from a certain standpoint people can say “you’re selling out people being occupied, bombed, etc.” (as if there was any visible movement force agitating against the bill from that standpoint). Well, I don’t know what to say to that, I obviously wouldn’t say “support the spending bill” but we could have said “support the dream act as an amendment to any bill” and let the dems do with that what they will. It’s a horrible contradiction to have to live with but it’s one I live with everyday, whether I pay taxes or gas up my car. If we’re serious about war spending, we need to build up those anti-war movements instead of critiquing DADT and Dream Act as a weak replacement. I didn’t see the latter having much of a material impact on much of anything regarding passing a “defense” spending bill.

    Where to go from here – I don’t know. I will continue furthering ties to the new layers of politicizing people (many through the Dream Act or Arizona) and hope to be in a good place to continue having these discussions, especially post dream act. I wanted the momentum to continue because some/many of the dreamers have thusfar been less attached to the big, dem tied non-profits in immigration and there was more room for radicalization, for organic development and struggle. More to say about this but already written a lot.

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