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Don’t Ask, DREAM Activists Unite

by Ambreen Ali
November 29, 2010

When the debate over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell derailed the defense authorization bill in September, it also quashed the hopes of young immigrants pushing for the DREAM Act.

But instead of becoming rivals, the two camps of activists banded together.

As the Senate prepares to tackle both issues again this week, repeal advocates and DREAM proponents are presenting a united front to Congress.

“We’re smarter than falling for a ‘it’s either one or the other’ argument,” Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEqual, said.

Over the past two months, Cronk has worked side by side with immigration activists to draft protest strategy and letters to Congress.

But her group, which favors repealing the military’s ban on openly gay Americans, has also received pushback from gay-rights activists who believe the two issues should be treated separately.

“There have been folks in the LGBT community saying don’t work with DREAM activists because it will tear down our chances. We pushed back because it’s not okay to leave people behind,” she said.

The alliance came about partly because several prominent students in the immigration fight are homosexual. The two groups also share an affinity for civil disobedience.

When 13 GetEqual supporters chained themselves to the White House fence earlier this month, DREAM activists stood in the audience and watched.

Several of them were arrested for staging a sit-in in Senator John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) office the following day.

Like Dan Choi, the discharged Army lieutenant who went hungry over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, DREAM activists in Texas have been holding a hunger strike to pressure Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson on their issue.

“There are a lot of similarities in our actions and in just taking a different approach than some other groups on how we target legislators,” Yahaira Carrillo of Kansas/Missouri DREAM Alliance said.

The student activist said she and the repeal activists have been sharing information on where lawmakers stand and who to pressure.

Both camps have called their grassroots members to flood Congress with phone calls and letters as the votes approach.

For the immigration movement—which includes a conservative faith community of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims—the alliance with the gay-rights movement may prove problematic.

But DREAM activists, who tend to be younger, say they see no cause for concern.

“We have been the ones who put the issue on the front lines. For the most part, undocumented youth and youth organizers are very much sympathetic to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell issue,” Carlos Amador of DREAM Team Los Angeles said.

Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality, a gay-rights group focused on immigration, went a step further. To his group, the two issues are very much connected.

“We hear often from undocumented lesbian and gay youth who very much want a path to citizenship, which is offered through two avenues — higher education and military service. Until Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repealed, one of those paths to citizenship is closed to lesbian and gay youth,” he said.

Ralls added that there is mutual benefit for the two camps.

Latinos and other immigrants could be useful allies to the gay community, which is smaller in population.

“It’s a shared movement and the partnership between the two communities is important both in the short term and in the long term,” he said.

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