Thursday, May 26, 2011

5-Part Series, Effecting Change with a “un-Revolution”; Part 5, ATOM Answers “Dream Act” Opposition

Many American student groups, and the majority of liberal progressive groups, are working for passage of the Dream Act. Many of these groups often express a desire for an open-arm and open or no border society in American immigration policy.

Many often cite the Dream Act amounts to fairness for young illegal immigrants who are innocent of wrong doing in their plight. Many most often ignore it is policy that is much further reaching than this in reality and can realistically be seen, in many ways, as part of a political game that ultimately only benefits politicians.

They believe the Dream Act is necessary to be good citizens of the world – good citizens of a Utopian one world society. Some even take the militant stand the majority of America’s southwest land was stolen from Mexico; and therefore, it is the only right thing to do even if this results in a revolutionary position against the U.S. This does not follow actual history, yet this is, believe it or not, what is being increasingly taught in many American schools today.

Many of these groups know there is extreme opposition from many American citizens regarding the Dream Act. Most liberal groups are unwilling to honestly and realistically address any opposition coming from legitimate citizen concerns of enforcing existing American immigration law, to local and national fiscal cost of illegal immigration, to national security and U.S. sovereignty. Many pro-Dream Act groups espouse any and all opposition is due only to those that must be labeled racists.

The Chicago based student group Access To Opportunity Movement (ATOM) is a liberal group. ATOM approaches their work with a willingness to engage every one of any political position and with a mission to unite all to make positive changes within the existing system. ATOM is honest and open and works from the premise of respecting all that they engage.

ATOM is willing to advance a dialogue to affect change. They are strategic and measure their effectiveness. They are not looking to rewrite history to fit their position or to name-call those that do not agree with them. ATOM is not demanding a revolution or to take anything by force.

They want to enact change by working within the system to change the system – a “un-Revolution” approach – which is most often how change is in fact successful within entrenched policy.

Unlike most Dream Act proponents, ATOM is willing to answer tough Dream Act opposition as an element of their work. Even if you come from the position “you will never agree with passage of the Dream Act”, this ATOM straight forwardness is in itself worth your attention and consideration.

In Part 4, we met Cindy Agustin. She is ATOM’s Director for Immigration Reform Initiatives. On behalf of ATOM, she shares her insights on the expressed thoughts from those Americans who believe the Dream Act would in fact be a nightmare for the U.S. You may agree or disagree with passage of the Dream Act, yet ATOM’s position is, at the least, one to hear and consider.

The Dream Act is quite controversial with many Americans. What are ATOM’s thoughts on the following points?

BKH: Many Americans see President Obama using the Dream Act to simply pander for Latino votes for his 2012 re-election?

CA: The Dream Act is a piece of legislation that was first put on the table in 2001, well before President Obama was ever considering even an initial Presidential bid. Rather than speculating about the President’s political tactics, what voters need to focus on are the merits of this bill, which stands to greatly improve the lives and prospects of the thousands students who stand to be affected by it.

BKH: Many Americans are angry about the existing immigration laws not being enforced by the federal government?

CA: Contrary to what many Americans have been led to believe, immigration laws have been heavily enforced under the Obama administration. In fact, the number of deportations has greatly increased under Obama as compared to Bush.

What’s more, this administration has gone so far as to establish a number of federal programs, such as the Secure Communities Program, which are aimed towards arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants who are found to be criminals. Under this program alone, thousands of people are deported every year regardless of whether or not they actually do in fact have a criminal background.

To assume that existing immigration laws are not being enforced at the federal level would clearly be missing the full picture.

BKH: Many Americans believe the U.S. cannot be a sovereign country if its borders are not secure and protected from illegal entry?

CA: The Dream Act is not advocating that our borders should not be secured. This piece of legislation is a measure to deal exclusively with those who are already within this country.

Border security is an entirely separate debate, which legislators will also have to address, but it is important that they realize that this debate over the Dream Act is not the appropriate stage to do it.

BKH: The majority of Americans want the U.S. borders to be secured and illegal immigration stopped prior to any immigration reform being considered including the Dream Act?

CA: What many fail to recognize is how complicated our current immigration system is and the loopholes that many immigrants have to go through to come to the United States. We need to understand the reasons behind the increase in unlawful migration from around the world, especially from countries in Latin America.

It is difficult for people from Latin American countries to acquire visas to the United States due to the quotas that are in place. The situation is much different for European countries. It is also important to note that border enforcement has increased dramatically over the last few years.

BKH: Many Americans believe the Dream Act rewards illegal behavior?

CA: The Dream Act is a piece of legislation that will give undocumented youth a chance at the American Dream. The Dream Act would only apply to undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children before the age of 16 years and who have completed at least two years of college or have enlisted in the military service.

These young people are not being rewarded for any illegal behavior, but rather will be given a chance to fulfill their dreams of attending college, joining the military, and making use of their education and skills by being able to become productive members of American society.

BKH: Many Americans believe the Dream Act will only lead to more illegal immigration incentive?

CA: Again, the Dream Act will only apply to those who arrived before the age of 16 and have been in the U.S. for at least 5 years before the enactment of the Act. Those who come afterwards will not qualify under this Act and therefore will not benefit from gaining U.S. legal permanent residency.

BKH: Many Americans have begun to feel the federal government, and some states, now grant illegal immigrants preferential treatment and benefits over many American citizens and legal residents?

CA: Many Americans are not aware of what type of services undocumented immigrants do and do not have access. Undocumented immigrants do not qualify to receive any social services like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, or federal and state funding for their education. Undocumented immigrants are not receiving preferential treatment and benefits over American citizens and legal residents.

In fact, undocumented immigrants are among the most vulnerable groups in the U.S. Many undocumented immigrants are exploited in their workplace, have no access to adequate health care, and do not have the resources to attend college or to continue their education.

BKH: Many Americans are angry about the huge financial cost of social programs already being given to illegal immigrants paid for by American taxpayers and adding to state budget problems?

CA: A misconception many Americans have regarding undocumented immigrants is that they do not pay taxes. Yet, a report released by the Immigrant Policy Center shows that undocumented immigrants have paid about $11.2 billion in state and local taxes. That included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes in 2010.

Undocumented immigrants do not benefit from social programs any more than U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

BKH: Many Americans believe the Dream Act is a ‘camel nose under the tent” attempt to extend amnesty for illegal immigrants?

CA: The Dream Act is not amnesty for any undocumented immigrants. In order for anyone to qualify for conditional permanent residency under the Dream Act, they must have completed at least 2 years of college, or enlisted in the military service, and undergo background checks to show that they are of good moral character.

Undocumented immigrants who would benefit directly from the Dream Act have shown that they want to give back to the only country they know through education and serving their country.

BKH: Many Americans object to the provisions in the Dream Act that would allow those applicants that gain citizenship to then sponsor family members for citizenship?

CA: Under the Dream Act, those who benefit will have to apply for 6 years of conditional permanent residency before being able to apply for U.S. citizenship. The fact that they are Dream Act beneficiaries will not affect how quickly their application goes through the immigration system. It might take up to 10 years for them to become U.S. citizens.

Because only U.S. citizens can petition their family members, those who benefit from the Dream Act will not be able to sponsor their family members for at least 15 years.

BKH: Many Americans believe illegal immigrants protesting for equal rights to American citizens and legal residents do not have a legal or moral standing to do so?

CA: Undocumented immigrants in the United States have become an essential part of our daily lives, and it is important that all members of our society, regardless of immigration status, are treated in a humane and respectful manner.

Undocumented immigrants are not demanding special treatment from the U.S. government but rather for the opportunity to be protected from being exploited in their workplace, for better opportunities for their children who may have limited resources to attend college, and to be treated with dignity.

Undocumented immigrants have contributed to the U.S. economy and society over the last decades and deserve the right to be treated as people and not second-class citizens.

BKH: Many Americans see those already in the U.S. illegally demanding favor over those wanting to come to the U.S. that are following the immigration laws and the legal process to do so?

CA: The United States government cannot ignore the fact there are approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. working, attending schools, and making their lives in the United States.

Current immigration laws and quotas that the U.S. has in place for certain countries limits the number of people who can legally arrive to the U.S. Unfortunately, unless a person has money, family who are U.S. citizens, and are highly skilled, they will not be able to receive a visa and file to stay in the country for long periods of time.

In some cases, family members will attempt to bring in their family from their home country but must wait up to 15 years before the family member can come into the U.S. Undocumented immigrants are not demanding special treatment from the U.S. but rather asking that they be given the opportunity to continue living in U.S. without fear and to be treated with respect.

Our immigration laws need to be fixed. This includes fixing the quotas set for different countries, the process to obtain a visa, and finding a way to fully incorporate the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. into society.

BKH: Many Americans point to illegal immigrants, from Mexico in particular, demanding rights and benefits from the U.S. government that the Mexican government does not grant any non-citizens including Americans in Mexico?

CA: The U.S. has a large immigration problem that must be addressed. Those that leave countries like Mexico and come to the U.S. do it as a last resort in search of a better life for them and their family.

Immigrants come to the U.S., work at low-wage jobs, are exploited at the workplace, and live in fear of being torn apart from their family. They are only asking to be treated with dignity and respect. The number of people who go to countries like Mexico out of necessity is much lower than the numbers that come to the U.S.

BKH: Many Americans oppose granting illegal immigrants the benefit of in-state tuition while maintaining higher out-of-state tuition application to American citizens wanting to go to the same school?

CA: Undocumented students are asking to be given the same right to an education as their peers. Many of these undocumented students arrived to the U.S. as toddlers and consider the U.S. to be the only home they know.

Students are asking to be given the same opportunities to an education as their peers in the states that they live. The 12 states in the U.S. that offer in-state tuition to undocumented students only offer it to students who have attended high school in their state. They are not allowing undocumented students from other states to benefit from these laws.

BKH: How can someone join ATOM’s efforts to affect change in Education, Youth Violence Prevention, and Immigration?

CA: Come check us out at the Access To Opportunity Movement website!

BKH: Thank you Cindy Agustin, ATOM Director for Immigration Reform Initiatives. Thank you also to Bradley Akubuiro, ATOM Chairman, Kaasha Benjamin, TOM Director of Education Strategy, and Jennifer Mahlum, ATOM Director of Youth Violence Prevention for participation in the AXcess News “un-Revolution” series.

Connect with ATOM on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You may also subscribe to the ATOM Blog.

See also:

Part 1, What is ATOM?

Part 2, ATOM Education Misson

Part 3, ATOM Youth Violence Prevention

Part 4, ATOM “Dream Act” Work

Follow Brenda Krueger Huffman on Twitter and join her on Facebook.

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