Friday, December 17, 2010


The Senate is set to cast final votes this weekend — passing the DREAM Act, and repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." If you live outside of California, call your U.S. Senator and ask them to vote yes on the Dream Act and to repeal DADT.

Here's what I wrote on the DREAM Act for the Bakersfield Californian almost three months ago. It sill applies. This time I'm posting it as it appeared in the Californian below. I've supplied the pictures.

Revolutionaries, squatters and 'illegals'

The Bakersfield Californian
Friday, Sep 24 2010 07:25 PM

Last Updated Friday, Sep 24 2010 07:25 PM

One of the great things about our nation is how we turned our back on "preserving an old economic order" that had contributed to making Europe a shallow and stagnant environment. To do this America has consistently embraced those who once lived outside of the law.

In the 18th century our Founding Fathers took it upon themselves to defy the King's Law, in the process becoming revolutionary icons. In the 19th century America granted homestead rights to outlaw squatters, which made them pioneers. In the 20th century America embraced the civil disobedience of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King. And the list goes on.

Of these, taking illegal squatters and turning them into yeoman farmers by granting them legal title to the land they farmed was one of the greatest acts Congress could have taken. Congress not only took advantage of a group of people who farmed and developed the West, but their foresight did much to create America's first middle class. Anchored to the notion that illegal squatters were actually doing our growing nation a favor, Congress found it both convenient and necessary to legitimize the efforts of those who were once viewed as a public nuisance.

By offering squatters first right to purchase the private or public land they had worked in the West, the policy of preemption made it clear that the U.S. government understood the benefits it would reap by embracing -- rather than criminalizing or fighting -- a group of people who had demonstrated that they were disciplined, productive and committed to the promises this nation had to offer.

Just as importantly, this policy fell in line with Abraham Lincoln's belief that the purpose of the U.S. government was "to 'clear the path' for the individual to labor and get ahead."

Unfortunately, this very simple Lincolnian principle was not evident last week in the U.S. Congress.

With the Republican Party promising to filibuster proposed legislation that carried the Dream Act, the "Party of Lincoln" showed it has little tolerance for the ideas of opportunity and unity that Lincoln promoted when he lived. As a result of the GOP's decision to come out against the DREAM Act, more than 65,000 undocumented high school graduates a year -- most of whom came to the United States as young children and grew up here -- will not get the opportunity to prove themselves by going to college, or serving in the U.S. military (though most are already doing so).

Interested in little else beyond pandering to a xenophobic and race-baiting crowd, Republican lawmakers on Tuesday stalled a Senate measure that would have allowed the children of "illegal" or undocumented immigrants to earn a path to citizenship by going to college or serving in the U.S. military.

The measure would not have automatically granted citizenship or property rights to anyone. It simply said if you have lived here from a young age, work hard in school, and/or serve this country, you're eligible to become a U.S. citizen. By looking at how we dealt with illegal squatters, and what we gained by legalizing their status, we get a better understanding of how we are now working against our national interests.

By ignoring absentee land owner claims to property, and giving up government claims as well, the policy of preemption departed fundamentally from European land practices, which protected its aristocratic elite. This enabled America to do three things crucial for building our middle class.

First, it made pioneers out of those previously viewed as illegal squatters or, worse, labeled as "criminals" (yes, many pioneers were also viewed as part of the criminal element at one time). Second, as opposed to supporting a titled or leisure class, preemption encouraged others to go and develop the West by rewarding hard work and individual initiative. Finally, it helped set the stage for America's yeoman farming middle class to emerge, which became the cornerstone of American democracy.

If congressional Republicans had acted with a greater degree of foresight, instead of pandering to a mob, they would have also done three things.

First, in the name of justice, by putting an entire generation of disciplined and committed young people on the path to citizenship, it would legitimized a group that had little to nothing to do with its status in this country. Second, as opposed to feeding a xenophobic mob mentality, supporting the DREAM Act would encourage many more to go to school or serve our nation in the military. Third, supporting the DREAM Act would have done much to take the hate and fear out of our public square by prompting Americans to focus on positive elements of our undocumented class.

Perhaps more importantly, it would have demonstrated that while we are a nation of laws -- in the spirit of the Enlightenment -- we are also a practical people that still rewards hard work and discipline.

At the end of the day, if Congress can pass legislation that encourages U.S. firms to take jobs overseas, hide profits in the Cayman Islands and lets Wall Street rewrite financial codes so that failed investment firms can become eligible for bailout funds as "banks" after markets collapse, it should be able to find the common sense to allow hard-working undocumented children to put themselves on the path to citizenship.

I have to think that many of our early pioneers and yeoman farmers would no doubt agree.

Mark A. Martinez, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Political Science at CSU Bakersfield.


- Mark

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