On Saturday, December 18th, 2010, the Senate took a historical vote on the DREAM Act and the ‘Don’t ask don’t Tell’ (DADT) repeal, two legislative bills that would significantly advance the civil rights of immigrant and queer communities in the United States. The repeal of DADT passed with 60+ votes, while the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow almost 2 million students to legalize their status, was defeated 55-41. Since the historic votes in the Senate that day, many have wondered how these decisions reflect mainstream opinion and attitudes towards gays and immigrants. Some have concluded that gays have more political influence, even acceptance, among policy makers in Washington and the American public, than do undocumented workers. This simple reading, however, does not take into account how these decisions were mediated by the intersecting ideologies of white supremacy,American nationalism, and military interests.
While advocates of the repeal of DADT described patriotic service men and women who were being denied the right to
serve because of their sexuality, the beneficiaries of the DREAM Act were often described as either undeserving ‘illegal aliens’ or victims of lawless and ‘criminal’ parents. The beneficiaries of DADT were presented as unquestionably American, despite their sexual orientation, while undocumented students were not. In fact, the arguments against theDREAM were often couched in racialized language that pitted hard working ‘Americans’ against the ‘invasion’ of brown people for jobs, resources, and status. Despite the fact that the DREAM Act ultimately included a military option – – what many called a de facto military draft for undocumented youth – it was not sufficient evidence to show the patriotism and worthiness of immigrant youth.
The missing piece in all of this is the fact that so many of America’s military service men and women are immigrants, many of them undocumented. As of 2009, approximately 30,000 members of the armed forces did not have US Citizenship, and hundreds of thousands more were awaiting Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process their applications for green cards. Since the beginning of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, about 100 immigrant service men and women have been awarded citizenship posthumously.
With the Pentagon increasingly recruiting more and more undocumented immigrants to fight the US imperialist wars abroad, the failure of the DREAM Act should awaken both immigrant rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists who have yet to reconcile how anti-LGBT bigotry and nativist racism are intertwined. Because now, while a lesbian marine can serve in the military openly, she may have to die in Iraq or Afghanistan before she is ever called an ‘American.’