Last week was both a happy time and a sad time for me as I read the news of Congress. Last Saturday, Congress voted 65 to 31 to pass a stand alone bill repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, after the House passed the bill 250 to 174. It was an important promise that President Obama kept for the 13,000 military soldiers who have been dismissed since the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was implemented in the Clinton administration. Sadly, though, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act, was voted down 55 to 41, falling shy of the 60 votes required to limit debate and move forward, essentially killing the legislation for this congressional session. The measure would have offered young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they pursue a college degree or enlist in the armed forces. For myself, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the fight for the Dream Act were both important civil rights issues and while I was happy about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I was sad about the failure of the Dream Act to pass the Congress.
The passage of the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was possible through the efforts of administration officials, of the persistent leadership of Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Harry Reid, Senator Susan Collins and Representative Patrick Murphy. The people most responsible for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell are the activists and discharged military personnel who lobbied and pressured government officials to keep the repeal of this discriminatory policy as a high priority. This is in keeping with a theory I have that social change comes from both political activists pressuring the government from outside the system, and reform politicians fighting for change inside the system. Only when both groups are fighting in conjunction can social change take place.
If we look back in history, we see that the fight for inclusion in the armed forces has had a significant influence in the history of civil rights. In the Civil War, Frederick Douglass and the abolitionists lobbied Lincoln hard to allow African Americans to serve in the Union Army. Lincoln was persuaded to allow African Americans to be in the military in the Fall on 1862 and during the Civil War federal statistics indicate that 178,975 black men served in the Union army during the Civil War. In addition, some 18,000 black men joined the U.S. Navy.
During World War II, Japanese Americans who were interned wanted to join the military to prove their loyalty to the United States. Two months after the declaration of war, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which rounded up Japanese Americans living on the West Coast and put them in internment camps. Over 110,000 West Coast Japanese Americans were interred, 70,000 of them U.S citizens. These Japanese Americans who joined the military included the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was the most decorated unite in military history.
In January 1948 President Truman decided to end segregation in the armed forces and the civil service through executive order rather than through legislation. This followed report of the Gillem Board “Utilization of Negro Manpower in the Postwar Army Policy,” issued in 1947 that concluded that the Army’s future policy should be to “eliminate, at the earliest practicable moment, any special consideration based on race.” Truman issued the executive order in spite of fierce resistance, and actually integration was slow until the Korean War. During that war, insufficient white replacement troops were available and black enlistments were high. Russ Bynum, a military writer, wrote an article on Oct 30, 2010 gave a quote from Marcus S. Cox, a history professor at The Citadel, about the similar arguments about gays serving in the military and integrating the armed forces:
Arguments today in favor of keeping the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” – that openly serving gays would disrupt morale and erode the cohesion of combat units – echo those used to defend military segregation along racial lines, said Marcus S. Cox, a history professor at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.
“Many people used that same argument against African-Americans serving in the same units as whites,” said Cox, who teaches black military history to Citadel cadets. “Many people said it’s the end of the military. But the result was there were very few problems, the military ran very efficiently.”
Women also fought discrimination to be able to serve in the military. During World War II, 47,000 women nurses served in the U.S. Army and 11,000 in the U.S. Navy. After the war, the generals and admirals who had once been dubious about woman serving in the military became enthusiastic after seeing the valor of these women’s service. They pressured Congress to have permanent women’s units in each service. In an informative blog Reader’s Companion to Military History, it writes:
In the mid-1970s, the feminist movement and the end of the draft forced the military to abolish the separate women’s units and to integrate its women and men. Women were kept out of combat roles (including practically all infantry, armor, artillery, combat aircraft, and combat warship billets). In global perspective, the United States did, however, take the lead, passing the 12 percent female proportion in 1990 and systematically expanding the scope of women’s activity. The first women reached flag rank in 1970 (army), 1971 (air force), and 1972 (navy), and they had command over significant numbers of men.
The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a tremendous civil rights victory, but the defeat of the DREAM Act was a tremendous blow to civil rights. The bill would’ve given legal status to those who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, have been here for five years, have no criminal record, graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree and who joined the military or attend college. If you read these requirements, these people are not just getting a free ride to citizenship but are earning their right and are being trained in ways that benefit our country. So for these people who want to serve our country in the military or attend colleges to join a highly educated workforce, they are denied that avenue because of stereotypes that people have against illegal immigrants. This is wrong.
I love this country, but the United States does not have a good history when it comes to exploiting immigrant for their cheap labor, then subjecting them to discrimination. Look at the example of Chinese immigrants. In the late 1800s, the United States initially welcomed Chinese immigrants to fill a shortage of workers. The early Chinese migrants helped drain the swamps of California’s swamplands and worked in the California gold mines. In 1867, 12,000 Chinese were employed by the Central Pacific Railroad, comprising 90 percent of the entire workforce. They cleared the trees, lay the track, operated the power drills and handled the explosives for boring tunnels through the Donner Summit. In 1870, 18 percent of all farm laborers in California were Chinese. In all of the fields that they entered, the Chinese immigrants were paid less than their white counterparts, and their labor was often cynically used to control the wages of all worker groups. This led other groups to resent Chinese workers and led to harassment and discrimination. American white miners felt threatened by the Chinese competition and pressured the California legislature to pass a tax that required a monthly payment of three dollars from every foreign miner who did not desire to become a citizen, which aimed at the Chinese immigrants since a 1790 federal law reserved naturalized citizenship to white persons. In 1862, the California legislature passed a law “to protect Free White Labor against competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California”, a law that levied a tax of $2.50 per month on all Chinese residing in the state, except those Chinese operating businesses, licensed to work in mines, or those engaged in the sugar, rice, coffee and tea industries. The resentments that were building up against the Chinese Americans resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Irish immigrants in the 1800s faced discrimination as well. Almost 2 million Irish Catholics immigrated to the U.S. between 1820 and 1860 as a result of the Irish famine, and they worked in canal building, lumbering, and civil construction works in the Northeast. Irish Catholics were mocked in schools and The Know Nothing Movement made it their goal to oust Catholics from public office. They faced job discrimination with the “HELP WANTED – NO IRISH NEED APPLY” signs that popped up in many industries.
After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, other immigrant groups were welcomed to fill up the shortages in labor. During the 1890s and early 1900s, California farmers worried about the tons of fruit and vegetables that rotted in the fields as a result of labor shortages, and they began employing Japanese immigrants to meet their labor needs. Between 1885 and 1924, 200,000 Japanese went to Hawaii and 180,000 went to the U.S. mainland to work in plantations and farmlands. When Japanese workers demanded higher wages, Asian Indians Sikhs were employed as laborers. Between 1910 and 1917, the Mexican Revolution sparked a migration of one tenth of the Mexican population to seek refuge in the United States. Over 16,000 Mexicans worked on the railroads in the West in 1908, and at least 150,000 of California’s 200,000 farm laborers were Mexican immigrants in the 1920s. Filipino workers began immigrating to Hawaii and the mainland U.S. in the early 1900s to work in agriculture. By 1930, over 110,000 Filipinos were in Hawaii and 40,000 were in the mainland. In each case, the different immigrant groups faced the same discrimination as the earlier Chinese immigrants. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the National Origins Act of 1924 prohibited Japanese immigration and barred the entry of women from China, Japan, Korea and India. The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 provided for the eventual independence of the Philippines, but also limited Filipino immigration to fifty people per year. The 1922 Cable Act even stipulated that any American woman who married an immigrant ineligible for citizenship was to cease being a citizen of the United States.
The pattern of all these immigrant groups is the same. They are initially welcomed to this country for their cheap labor and to fill up labor shortages in certain industries. When these immigrants get tired of being exploited and demand greater rights, then laws are passed that discriminate against them and they’re denied any means of becoming citizens of this country, in spite of the contributions that they’ve made to our country’s industries. Some illegal immigrants do come across for criminal activities like drug trafficking and should be prosecuted to the fullest extant by our law enforcement. The vast majority of illegal immigrants, however, are honest hard workers who are just trying to find a better life for themselves and their families that they cannot find in Mexico. And there are industries here in the U.S. willing to hire them and exploit their cheap labor. This historic pattern of exploitation and discrimination has to stop.
The reason I support the Dream Act is for fairness to the children of these illegal immigrants. African American soldiers during the Civil War served so they could show their white Americans of their worthiness to be treated as equal American citizens. Japanese Americans served in the military to prove their loyalty as American citizens. Gays who want to serve in the military want to show their patriotism to their country. The children of illegal immigrants went out in the open to lobby for the Dream Act to earn the right to be American citizens. If they want to earn a right to be American citizens, we should give them a chance to earn it.
A youtube video of the Gay Veterans Memorial in Cathedral City
A youtube video of Joe Lieberman and gay and lesbian veterans lobbying Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
A youtube video of a student trying to lobby Senator McCain to pass the Dream Act
A youtube video of a student activist after the Dream Act passed the House vote
A youtube video of another student activist who related his story of supporting the Dream Act
A youtube video of Senators Dick Durbin and Daniel Inouye speaking for their support of the Dream Act
A youtube video of President Obama being heckled by activists for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Though I like Obama, I think the activists were right to keep pressure on Obama to keep his promise
A youtube video of President Obama signing the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy
A youtube video of Lt. Dan Choi protesting the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy
A youtube video of Senator Harry Reid and Lt. Dan Choi