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Commentary: organizing tensions--from the prison to the military-industrial complex.

IN AUGUST 2001, THE DEVELOPMENT RELIEF AND EDUCATION FOR ALIEN MINORS ACT (DREAM Act), a proposal to assist select undocumented students in attaining legal status, was introduced into the 107th Congress by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. This bill has never received enough votes to pass; in 2003, 2005, 2007, and most recently in March 2009, modified versions of the bill were reintroduced. Although garnering more support each time, these versions failed to pass. (1) The 2009 version introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) offered youth between the ages of 12 and 35 the possibility of legalization if they had arrived in the United States before the age of 16, lived here for five years, graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED, and demonstrated "good moral character." Those meeting these criteria would receive temporary residency for six years; permanent residence (with no conditions) within the six years would be granted to students who earned at least a two-year degree, completed at least two years of a Bachelor's degree, or served two years in the U.S. military and received an honorable discharge. Failure to meet these conditions or being convicted of a major crime or drug-related offense would lead to the loss of temporary residency and deportation. Throughout the process, students would be ineligible for Pell educational grants.

In the 2009 DREAM Act, military service is offered as a test of loyalty and a way to identify and reward "good" immigrants who merit citizenship. Many activists have noted that the act can be read as a de facto racial and economic form of the draft (Mariscal, 2009), since the number of undocumented Latinas/os (and other immigrant populations) able to finish two or four years of college has not been rising significantly (Gonzales, 2009; Santiago, 2008). Passel (2003) estimates that of the 80,000 undocumented youth who have lived in the United States for five years or longer that reach the age of 18 each year, 65,000 graduate from high school and only 7,000 to 13,000 enroll in post-secondary education.(2) Moreover, this legislation reproduces heteronormativity, since military service requires one to be gender conforming and heterosexual (or a closeted non-heterosexual). As in the World War I and World War II periods, naturalization and participation in the permanent war economy have become a viable script for vulnerable youth to gain legal status. Yet, this script attempts to erase how these systems or complexes, military and prison, actively and continuously harm some of the most vulnerable populations inside and outside the United States.

Since immigration detention is a central component of our prison system and military service serves as a potential pathway for legalization (for select youth), it is vital to examine how the prison and military complexes intersect and attempt to constrain and map futures for undocumented youth (Mariscal, 2009; Rodriguez, 2008; Davis, 2005). The military and the prison are networks that suture capital, communities, and the state to a permanent war and punishment economy. According to geographer and activist Ruth Gilmore, these complexes are intimately linked to our day-to-day lives:

It's not just the business and military interests. We have all the people who are dependent on these expenditures of public money for the military. This includes all the people in all the towns that got the military bases and people who work at the bases. All the people in the academy who get federal grants and contracts to do classified and unclassified research and development. All of the intellectuals in the quasi-public nonprofits like the RAND Corporation that write reports for the military. Of course, you also have people like Lockheed, Boeing, the generals and Joint Chiefs of Staff and so forth. All of those people make up the Military Industrial Complex (Gilmore, n.d: 3).

These complexes also shape pathways for advocacy in progressive justice movements, in particular within the still far-too-separate immigration and criminal justice (anti-prison) movements. Strategies for legalization offered by the state and embraced by many vulnerable communities, such as the DREAM Act, trade on tropes of "innocence" and "merit," thus reinforcing the idea that there are "real" criminals and undeserving or guilty immigrants who should legitimately be denied access to pathways for legalization. Our commentary contributes to the increasingly important work of analyzing and critiquing strategies to access "rights." Who benefits--materially and ideologically--from legislation such as the DREAM Act? Who does not? What are the contexts (and histories) of militarization in the lives of young people of color today? What does it cost radical justice movements when individuals and immigration rights movements support legislation that includes militarization, even as a short-term strategy?

Methods, Contexts, and Goals for Our Work

Our research and organizing team has been invested in progressive and just immigration reform that unifies families, eradicates punishing immigration policies, and challenges a permanent war economy. Individually, we have histories as scholars and activists working for justice and immigration reforms, but in 2007 we collectivized to formalize and deepen our individual work. We were outraged by ongoing media coverage that routinely depicted immigrants as "illegal aliens" and offered little historical context for immigration policies and trends in the United States (Newton, 2008). Immigration continues to shape our lives. Most of us were at some time undocumented, and all of us have relationships with individuals who are still undocumented. We also work at post-secondary institutions where students disclose to us that they are undocumented and ask us for assistance and advice.

We focused our work on students and youth who reside within the Chicago area in Illinois. Given our connections, local work was most feasible and valuable, and we believed it was important to address what is happening to the undocumented Latino population in the Midwest. Much of the previous research on this population was conducted in the Southwest and in California (Perez, 2009; Madera, 2008). Given conservative estimates of 500,000 undocumented persons, or about 3.5% of all Illinois residents, the situation is acute (ICIRR, 2004). Research suggests that 20,103 undocumented high school students live in Chicago, with 3,000 to 4,000 graduating each year (Illinois State Board of Higher Education, 2002; Mehta and Ali, 2003). In Chicago, approximately 6.1% of all undocumented students are enrolled in a post-secondary institution (Mehta and Ali, 2003). Most undocumented students attend the overflowing public community colleges because they are not eligible to receive federal or state financial aid. Illinois and 10 other states (California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) are supportive in terms of access to post-secondary education. In Illinois, undocumented students pay in-state tuition as long as they meet the required admissions criteria according to Illinois House Bill 60 of 2003 (Mehta and Ali, 2003).

Our work is a form of activist participatory research, reflecting a commitment to organizing that resists the civil death conferred by the state on growing numbers of undocumented students in colleges and universities across the United States. (3) As of 2009, we had gathered over 40 narratives related to the lives and struggles of undocumented and formerly undocumented students. We offered workshops for community college staff and faculty on the intersection of higher education policies and immigration policies. We have published editorials in local papers, participated in rallies and marches, circulated information on access to resources for the undocumented, advocated for policy changes in higher education and immigration, and helped youth to informally network and gain access to support and resources. Our work is to serve as allies to those most affected, to make visible the experiences of an erased population, to work at the local level to leverage resources and educational access for those in need, and to use our research and power to support systemic and structural changes in immigration and educational policies. We struggle to juggle these goals with our other fulltime demands as caregivers, students, workers, and j ustice-mobilizers in other movements. This work is ongoing and our short commentary outlines one aspect of our work.

"Tough on Crime and Immigration" to "Tough on Terror"

Recent scholarship and activism identify the growing role of immigration within our nation's prison-industrial complex. From Abu Ghraib to the Cook County Jail to the U.S.-Mexico border, the military and prison work as an interlocking system to naturalize violence and punishment as a response to conflict. Legal theorist Teresa Miller (2002: 215) writes that mass incarceration policies provide "a template for the widespread detention of immigrants who lack proper documentation or have criminal convictions in their past." With the merger of the Immigration and Naturalization Services into the Department of Homeland Security in 2001 (Bohrman and Murakawa, 2005), there was a corresponding shift from immigration as a service to an agency concerned with enforcement. A network of 400-plus private and public detention centers was established across the United States, making the undocumented an integral and expanding component of the criminalized class. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the largest U.S. enforcement agency) has a workforce of over 17,000. Its 2008 budget topped five billion dollars. The agency deported 977 non-citizens every day in 2008, a 23.5% increase over 2007 (U.S. ICE, 2008: VIII; III). As of June 2007, the agency acknowledged that "62 immigrants died in administrative custody since 2004" (Bernstein, 2007: 2). (4) The Washington Post recently calculated that "with roughly 1.6 million immigrants in some stage of immigration proceedings, the government holds more detainees a night than Clarion Hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses, and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines" (Hsu and Moreno, 2007).

With the federal 287(g) program that empowers local and state police to act as a federal immigration authority (Archibold, 2009), ongoing deportation raids in cities such as Postville, Iowa, in 2008 and in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago in 2007, as well as the militarization of border areas to reassemble large prisons, immigration has become an integral part of the nation's expanding prison-industrial complex (Evans, 2005; Davis, 2003, 2005; Gilmore, 2007b; Rodriguez, 2008). The Postville raid was "the Bush administration's largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site" (Hsu, 2008). Over 350 individuals were arrested, including people from Guatemala, Mexico, Israel, and Ukraine; many had children attending local schools at the time of their arrests (Ibid.). ICE agents were heavily armed in the raid at the popular Latino Little Village Plaza strip mall. As Romo and Kozlov's 2007 CBS news report stated, "Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were apparently targeting a ring that counterfeits and sells immigration documents in the area. Many people complained that others who had nothing to do with counterfeiting were also arrested."

Like criminal laws, immigration policies serve as a form of labor control and as a means of disciplining marginalized populations. (5) In 2008, Colorado authorities proposed that incarcerated workers could replace the potentially diminishing supply of migrant workers (Frosch, 2007). Employers and state politicians believed the ICE raids would result in fewer migrant workers in Colorado. Thus, the state's prison population could potentially be paid "60 cents a day," for weeding, harvesting, and other manual labor aiming to address the gap of the labor of the estimated 150,000 undocumented workers in the state of Colorado (Ibid.).

Public schools have also been an intimate partner in the prison-industrial complex. Although military service is a potential route to citizenship in the United States, the state employs criminalization and incarceration to contain marginal populations. The six public schools in Chicago run by the Department of Defense are located in communities of color (Meiners and Quinn, 2009; Sodavi and Banchero, 2007). Youth of color are also drastically overrepresented at every level of the criminal justice system (National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2007) and are underrepresented in colleges and universities (Santiago, 2008; Santiago and Brown, 2004). Gilmore (2007a) writes that the prison and the military-industrial complex actively constrain futures and shape myraid policies: education, immigration, criminal justice, and economic.

From "tough on communism" to "tough on crime," the consistency between the two complexes lies in how broadly their reach has compromised all sorts of alternative futures. The main point is not that few corporations call the shots--they don't; rather an entire realm of social policy and social investment is hostage to the development and perfection of means of mass punishment (Gilmore, 2007a: 42-43).

Gilmore stresses the importance of these systems in shaping life pathways for so many, both domestically and globally. Undocumented populations have often looked upon military service as the only option for escaping a de facto criminalized class. Serving in World War I offered white "aliens" a pathway to legalization because it demonstrated "loyalty--especially in its ultimate test" and therefore "qualified one to citizenship" (Ngai, 2004: 42). Enlisting during wartime generally is a test of hetero-masculinity and patriotism, with communities seeking status in the nation-state often using this strategy to achieve legalization. After half a century of white supremacist policies that criminalized Asian migrants and regulated the labor market, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) advocated military service during World War II for Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) to demonstrate their fidelity to the United States. In 1942, the JACL's leader, Mike Masaoka, stated, "We had to have a demonstration in blood" (Ibid.: 182). This strategy was promoted even though the U.S. government had confined the West Coast Japanese population in internment camps between 1942 and 1945. In 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed and many Chinese displayed buttons proclaiming "I'm Chinese" during the war for fear of being considered Japanese and thus incarcerated (Espiritu, 1992: 23).

Historically, military recruiting tools have specifically targeted communities on the margins of full citizenship, including white ethnics (Italians, Irish) and African Americans. Now, the Yo Soy El Army campaign targets Latina/os (NYCoRE, 2008). The Defense Department partnered with the Department of Education and city governments to sell its "brand" to young people and to secure positions of power over the lives of the most vulnerable youth. The U.S. military is aggressively recruiting Latinos, according to journalist Roberto Lovato:
   The centrality of Latinos to the military enterprise can be seen in
   statements by Pentagon officials like John McLaurin, Deputy
   Assistant Secretary of the Army for Human Resources, who stated
   that in order to meet recruitment goals, Latino enlistments must
   grow to 22 percent by the year 2025 (2005: 2).

Latino military recruitment employs various tactics. Television ads depict mothers, fathers, and grandparents exhibiting an extreme sense of pride for their young loved ones who have joined the military. Other strategies consist of heavy recruitment by military personnel in local public schools or universities, where they set up a table in the cafeteria or roam the halls promising students money for their college education, as well as enlistment bonuses. According to Alvarez (2006):
   In Denver and other cities where the Latino population is growing,
   recruiting Latinos has become one of the Army's top priorities.
   From 2001 to 2005, the number of Latino enlistments in the Army
   rose 26 percent, and in the military as a whole, the increase was
   18 percent. The increase comes at a time when the Army is
   struggling to recruit new soldiers and when the enlistment of
   African-Americans, a group particularly disillusioned with the war
   in Iraq, has dropped off sharply, to 14.5 percent from 22.3 percent
   over the past four years.

Latino youth are also seen as "very patriotic" individuals, who serve the United States "with gratitude" and reenlist at higher rates than any other group of soldiers (Ibid.).

The military-industrial complex has had ongoing, tense relationships with public education. Chicago's public school system is the most militarized in the nation, with other large, largely Black and Brown urban centers such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Oakland not far behind (Meiners and Quinn, 2009). Nearly 10,000 students in Chicago participate in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, beginning as early as middle school Cadet Corps, and another 2,400 are enrolled in one of Chicago's six public Department of Defense (DOD) high schools and numerous other military schools-within-schools (Roa, 2009). Chicago is the only city in the nation to have academies representing every branch of the military (Ibid.).

The DREAM ACT is layered onto this landscape through the hyper-militarization of youth of color, the history of military service as a potential limited pathway to access to citizenship, and the growing role of immigration as a central spoke in the carceral state.

Challenges of Organizing and Activist Research

We have circulated petitions and written professional letters supporting the DREAM Act because the youth we know and their families are deeply invested in it and have organized around its various legislative versions. Josue, an 18-year-old Latino male who emigrated with his family at the age of 10, discussed how an undocumented person could potentially market oneself to a legislator. For him, being perceived as "good" is the only game in town for possible legalization:
   To a legislator, it depends if it is an election season or not, but
   you have to try to build your resume, build yourself up by being
   involved in the community, by being involved in school, getting
   good grades, and so forth. Then you can present yourself to the
   legislator. I've done the best I can. I'm in the top five percent
   of overall students in the university, and when I graduate I will
   have a degree and won't be another negative statistic for
   Latinos--one who hasn't graduated, is working at minimum wage, and
   stuff like that. How can you help me? What can I do? You just can't
   go to the legislator and say I need my legal status. It is a catch
   for both sides. If you've been a good student, it is easier for
   them to work for you. You must try to be the best you can, and not
   just want legal status.

Students often felt that they needed to consistently demonstrate that they were exemplary, leaving no room for mistakes. These youth negotiate complicated legal and personal situations: mixed-status families (sometimes undocumented mothers and documented siblings), deep depression and anxiety, working more than fulltime at a non-living wage to support parents and siblings, and more. They are well aware of the impact of the media in shaping their lives and constructing Latinos as scapegoats. Ricky, age 20, states:
   I think they [the media] use them [undocumented Latinos] as
   scapegoats.... I think they praise them when they're necessary, but
   when something goes bad they're pretty much the first people that
   they blame it on.... They portray them as a good thing when they
   need cheap labor, but then when the economy is going bad, all of a
   sudden we're like a burden on everyone.

Recognizing that labor and economic anxieties are fueled by the mainstream media's portrayal of their struggles and knowing that access to resources hinges on this story, their political organizing is structured by the state's response--the DREAM Act. Lacking other options, Ricky, like many youth, considers taking extraordinary measures to access citizenship:
   I have even gone to extremes, to tell my mom I think if I was more
   informed about it, that if the government said they would give
   papers to those who signed up for war, 1 would have done that,
   honestly. I think I would have done that for myself and for my
   family because it's like my brother is also about to attend college
   next year and if I were to do that it would make it easier on him.

We participate in advocating for and critiquing the DREAM Act, because reforms that augment the military and the prison state do not create futures that enable all of us to flourish. We promote life pathways that do not divide families, or privilege student over worker, youth over parent. The DREAM Act separates a population that typically accrues the most public sympathy--undocumented students--and gives this limited group access to pathways for legalization. Thus, it potentially makes it more difficult to pass more comprehensive immigration reform that includes an amnesty component for other undocumented groups that are less "attractive."

As a team, we entertain conflicting ideas about the role and work of the military in a democracy. The military has entered each of our lives in different ways. For some of us, the military (in the United States and other countries) has provided life-changing employment opportunities for family members, saved lives, or ended lives. Despite these divergent personal histories, we agree that the responsibility of activists, organizers, and researchers is to name this political tension, and, as W.E.B Du Bois has argued, to practice radical democracy and imagine and work for immigration, prison, and military reforms that build an abolition democracy. Temporary initiatives such as the DREAM Act do not address the larger question of nation-state disenfranchisement of increasingly larger segments of our population. Nor does it challenge the persistent role of a carceral and punitive state that "renews, reinvigorates, and refreshes a culture of violence that presumes that people ought to kill one another all the time, whether or not war is declared" (Gilmore, n.d.: 3).

Building an abolition democracy, or a democracy that at least meets the full promise of the abolition of slavery, write Angela Davis and W.E.B. Du Bois, requires transforming the structures and traditions that safeguard power and privilege. That task is of equal weight to taking down those who visibly punish and oppress. Davis (2005: 96-97) contends that detention centers have:
   thrived over the last century precisely because of the absence of
   those resources and the persistence of some of the deep structures
   of slavery. They cannot be eliminated unless new institutions and
   resources are made available to those communities that provide, in
   large part, the human beings that make up the prison population.

Strategies for access to the nation-state that turn on militarization and incarceration thrive because other "public" democratic institutions are not available to undocumented youth. Building a flourishing democracy requires organizing efforts to frame policies that are equitable and just for generations to come.

Acknowledgment: We are honored and challenged to do more by the men and women who shared their stories with us, and who continue to work for personal and political change. Feedback from reviewers raised valuable questions and made this commentary stronger.


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(1.) Many of the provisions of the DREAM Act were reintroduced as part of two failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills in 2006 and 2007 (The DREAM Act, 2009).

(2.) Most undocumented persons in the United States are Latinos, with Mexicans comprising 57% and other Latin American countries contributing 24%. Nationally, approximately nine percent are from Asia, six percent are from Europe and Canada, and four percent are from Africa and other countries. Some 1.7 million undocumented immigrants are children under 18. Children account for one of every six undocumented persons (Passel, 2005).

(3.) By civil death we refer to the reality that the undocumented, similar to those convicted of crimes, are prohibited from voting, employment, the use of social assistance benefits, and more.

(4.) The ACLU also released ICE documents in 2007 on Operation Endgame, which detailed ICE plans to remove 12 million people by 2012 (Rose and Ott, 2007).

(5.) According to Angela Davis (2000), recently freed African Americans were criminalized after the Civil War through the "Black Codes" of the Southern states. These incarcerated men provided a ready supply of laborers after the Civil War. Ex-slaves were not the only targets of these Codes, however, as numerous laws also addressed Indigenous peoples, criminialized their behavior, and subsequently framed them as exploitable labor (Ogden, 2005; Smith, 2005).

Daysi Diaz-Strong, Christina Gomez, Maria E., Luna-Duarte, Erica R. Meiners, and Luvia Valentin *

* DAYSI DIAZ-STRONG holds an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. For the past seven years, she has worked as a community college administrator in Illinois. CHRISTINA GOMEZ, Associate Professor of Sociology and Latino and Latin American Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, is editor of Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories (Cornell Press, 2007). Her research focuses on identity construction, social inequalities, skin color discrimination, immigration, and undocumented students. MARIA E. LUNA-DUARTE is the Assistant Director at Northeastern Illinois University-El Centro. A former Consular Agent in the Legal/ Protection Department of the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago, her interests include the undocumented, migrant students in higher education, identity, race, and ethnicity. ERICA R. MEINERS, a Professor of Education and Women's Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, is the author of Right to Be Hostile: Schools, Prisons and the Making of Public Enemies (2007). She has written on anti-prison organizing, queer lives, and educational justice work. LUVIA VALENTIN is a program specialist and academic advisor for Proyecto Pa'Lante at Northeastern Illinois University. Her professional and academic work involves the access, retention, and transition of first-generation Latino students.
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Author:Diaz-Strong, Daysi; Gomez, Christina; Luna-Duarte, Maria E.; Meiners, Erica R.; Valentin, Luvia
Publication:Social Justice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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