by Mary E. Hunt
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a welcome victory for those who seek queer justice. When asked what’s ahead, most activists predict and promote same-sex marriage as the logical, necessary next step. I want to make a case from a feminist religious perspective for why immigration reform, starting with the DREAM Act, is a better answer.
I take my hat off to the people whose courage, skill, and tenacity resulted in the end of a military policy that discriminated. I watched one of my friends, a
West Point grad, as she and her colleagues used all the training and discipline they had accumulated in the military to make this important change. At the end of the day, they got what they wanted—a military in which all who wish to serve may do so regardless of sexuality.
As a feminist, I loathe sex/gender discrimination. But given a choice, I still would have preferred that they figure out how to end wars. That may yet be hastened by this change if those who have experienced the sting of discrimination make the connections between/among the many forms of oppression.
The same lame duck session of Congress that passed DADT failed to pass the DREAM Act. The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act (S.729 and H.R. 1751) is legislation that would allow 65 000 young people whose parents came to this country without the proper paperwork to use a special track to citizenship. They would be granted Conditional Permanent Residency, then have six years to qualify for citizenship by completing two years of college or two years of military service. This seems eminently reasonable if too stiff for my tastes. But it is a start.
I cannot say that there were legislative trade-offs here. But my joy at DADT was tempered by the loss of the DREAM Act. Did the legislators have to choose between the two bills? Many LGBTIQ people vote and donate to political candidates. Many ‘new Americans,’ as I prefer to think of immigrants, cannot do either. Did that influence the course of history? Perhaps. So what is the next step in justice?
I propose that we all get behind the DREAM Act for three simple reasons. First, it is the most minimal move toward the much needed full scale immigration reform that will one day make this country safe, welcoming, and fair for all who come to its shores. Children should not be punished for their parents’ choices. This act is a decent compromise that reasonable Americans can agree on.
Second, if justice is justice for one and for all, LGBTIQ people do well to take a stand for the needs of another group just as we have relied on heterosexual people to assure our rights. This will demonstrate our seriousness about making this country a working democracy in which everyone has the same rights. Our specific issues will come around again—there is momentum for same-sex marriage—but in the meantime we reinforce the deeper principle of fairness.
Third, by achieving DADT the queer community has shown the power of its moral cause and its political muscle. By focusing our resources--our talented and well-trained lobbyists and strategists, our political capital--on immigration in the first round of the next Congress we break the old pattern of each one for her/himself. We share the wealth, extend a hand, and create an even broader coalition for future social change. Some of those young people who will benefit from the DREAM Act are LGBTIQ people so we help our own as well.It would be easy to say let us move forward on both immigration and same-sex marriage at the same time. I hope that will happen. But my very pointed suggestion is that queer people make immigration an integral part, indeed in the near future, a priority part, of our agenda because justice demands it.
* Mary E. Hunt is Co-Director of Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) and co-editor of New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views.