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Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

20 Percent of Veterans in College Have Planned to Commit Suicide

Veterans in college are six times more likely to attempt suicide than the typical student and more than a fifth have planned to kill themselves, a new study presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting shows.

Universities are largely unprepared to meet the educational, and mental health needs, of the more than one million veterans expected to enter institutions of higher education in the next decade according to the report.

“If we don’t think [this] through, it’s going to be a significant and very difficult problem,” the study’s author, M.David Rudd said. “These [mental health] numbers were far higher than anticipated” and veterans are “having dramatically more difficulty than the typical student.”

The study shows that about half of veterans have contemplated killing themselves and that 82 percent of those who attempted suicide also struggled with significant post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Researchers say veterans often feel disconnected from their fellow students. This social separation, coupled with a “warrior mentality” can make seeking emotional help especially difficult.

Since the passage of the post-9/11 GI Bill, the number of veterans attending college has surged. While many universities have worked to welcome and support veterans on to their campuses, the transition has not always been smooth. In Maryland, Charles Whittington, an Iraq war veteran, was suspended from the Community College of Baltimore County after he wrote a paper about his addiction to killing that college administrators found “disturbing.” Other veterans have complained that fellow students are immature or constantly ask, “Did you kill anyone over there?”

Rudd says that colleges and universities need to take a number of steps to support veterans.

His report suggests creating veteran support centers on campuses, setting up special veterans orientation and training college counselors to recognize combat-related trauma. States like Maryland have already tried to enhance veterans experience by fostering greater cooperation between Veterans Affairs office and university administrators. The University of Wyomig will introduce a special transition course for veterans this fall and UMass Amherest already has a “drop-in” center for veterans.

Yet these reccomendations may fall on deaf ears. As Claire Potter argues at The Chronicle of Higher Education, state governments are unlikely to fund the report’s recommendations. In the past two years states have already slashed the budgets that would have provided services for student veterans “from 10 to 20 percent across the nation”:

California, where we can imagine large numbers of vets matriculating because they have deployed from and will return there, is cutting between $1.3 and 1.4 billion dollars from a system that took massive cuts in the last fiscal year. North Carolina, a state that should see similar pressure because of its military bases, is cutting 15% from its state system alone. Private schools have also cut, and cut and cut. Texas? South Carolina? It’s the same story everywhere. Furthermore, as military budgets are reduced over the next several years, do we think that veterans benefits or weapons systems will be eliminated?

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Chilean Students Strike for Education Reform

A national strike by university and high school students is currently under way in Chile to press their demands for reform of the education system. This latest action by students who have been protesting for weeks, arguing that the current system is under-funded, unequal and unfair, follows on the heels of a continuing hunger strike by four students, now into its 15th day.

This video by talented young filmmaker Brittany Peterson offers a good sense of what's motivating the Chilean student movement and includes exclusive interviews with the hunger strikers.

Chilean student hunger Strike from Brittany Peterson on Vimeo.

Based in Chile, Peterson is currently conducting interviews for a new Nation video report on the country's burgeoning student movement and what could come next. Coming soon to thenation.com.

Inspiring Students to Enter Federal Service

Baby boomers working in government are beginning to retire en masse and there is critical need to replace them with millennials. Last month, the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the Federal Workforce held a hearing seeking answers and ideas on how to inspire students to enter the federal service.

“The federal government is the largest employer in the United States and federal service is a noble profession,” said Hawaii Senator and subcommittee chair Daniel Akaka. “Our nation, for the first time in history, is facing a huge retirement wave. The way they surf in Hawaii, we want to take advantage of the wave, and use it wisely as an opportunity to get a good ride.”

Around 273,000 “mission-critical” jobs need to be replaced by September 2012 largely due to retirements, a warning that is hardly new. The average age of a federal employee in 2007—the most recent year with available data—is 47 years old. In 1990, the average age was 42.3 years old.

And despite millions of unemployed Americans looking for work, unemployment is consistently under 5 percent for those with a college degree or higher according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs is growing, particularly in the federal government.

The hearing’s witnesses agreed that attracting top young talent to the federal government is challenging and necessary. Witold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Social Security Administration Field Operation Locals, characterized hiring the next generation of federal employees as serious because federal employees “are the vital threads of the fabric of American life.” He also praised the Obama administration for “making government service ‘cool’ again.”

There are numerous challenges to attracting qualified students to federal service, including a shortage of skilled talent in areas like nursing, a complicated federal hiring process and increasingly negative rhetoric toward the federal government.

“Unless efforts to destroy the image and middle-class status of federal employees are not halted, it will not make a bit of difference if the Obama Administration creates the best possible recruitment programs,” Skwierczynski noted in his written statement. “A candidate with any sense at all would be reluctant to join a workforce which is constantly being maligned and financially undermined for political purposes.”

Timothy McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service also stressed the level of recent negative discourse toward the government and its consequences. “With anti-government sentiment and fed-bashing on the rise we believe that government may lose its competitive edge that it’s worked so hard to gain over the last several years,” he said at the hearing.

“I think a day doesn’t go by without a story in the newspaper about a fed being overpaid,” McManus told The Nation. “What we’ve seen is the more negative press there is around the federal government the less it is for people to think, ‘Hey, that’s something I want to do.’ ”

As levels of scrutiny toward federal employees increase and rhetoric turns toward cutting benefits and pay, prospective employees will likely be turned off, McManus said.

Some improvements have already been made despite daunting challenges. The witnesses at the panel praised President Obama’s executive order to end the Federal Career Internship Program. While the program did succeed in hiring more than 100,000 federal employees since 2001, it came under fire from unions and veterans’ organizations for “abuses in hiring,” according to John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

In ending this program, the administration aimed to make the hiring process for recent graduates more open, fair and competitive.

Its replacement, the Pathways Programs “will allow the Federal government to compete more effectively with the private sector for promising candidates who may be short on experience, but long on potential,” said Christine Griffin, deputy director of the US Office of Personnel Management. “We think it will be a vehicle through which we can improve diversity of the federal workforce.”

Senator Akaka may have called federal service a “noble profession,” but recent graduates may be entering into less “noble” career paths. A report from the nonprofit Kaufmann Foundation found, for example, that the finance industry has increasingly attracted young talent at the expense of other sectors. The increase of highly complex products increased the need to hire holders of advanced degrees in science, math and engineering. Working for these financial companies could lead to salaries “five times or more what their salaries would have been had they stayed in their own fields and pursued employment with more tangible societal benefits,” the report found.

The news isn’t as disheartening for federal employers as recent surveys of college graduates suggest. A 2010 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reveals that only 39 percent of college graduates put working in a for-profit, private sector job as their primary post-graduate goal. Interest in working in the government and nonprofit sector consistently grew from the 2008 to 2010 survey, with 21 percent of respondents planning to pursue jobs in these areas.

These trends relate to a certain sense of optimism present at the hearing. “While young Americans want to serve, they do not want to serve simply for the sake of service,” said Ann Mahle, vice president for recruitment at Teach for America. “They want to understand that their work has a real, on-the-ground impact.”

“College graduates, to a remarkable degree, want to make a positive impact in their work.”

You wouldn’t guess that by looking solely at some college’s job listings. Cornell University’s daily newspaper’s job board, for example, is remarkably skewed toward companies like Goldman Sachs, Barclays Capital, Credit Suisse and Deloitte. For a school with robust programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the job listings are overwhelmingly geared toward the private sector. Similarly, Harvard’s paper has numerous listings from, among others, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments and Accenture.

Granted, this foray into college newspaper job listings is hardly a scientific study on the job preferences of Generation Y. But it does speak to the reasonable concept that many graduates want to make quick bucks and plenty of them. With student debt reaching soaring heights, it’s no wonder that there’s a need from students to repay those loans as quickly as possible.

Still, as Mahle accurately suggests, there are hundreds of thousands of soon-to-be and recent graduates who simply want to make a positive impact, including federal service. It will take considerable outreach and marketing from federal agencies and departments to reach out to these young people as well as coordination and training from colleges and universities to facilitate them to these crucial jobs. It would be a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Even in light of the negativity, this is their opportunity to make a difference,” Timothy McManus of the Partnership for Public Service said to The Nation. “It doesn’t matter that you’re looking at issues of housing, or energy or the environment. There’s no bigger stage to make a difference than the federal government.”

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Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important (and Undercovered) Stories

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nationinterns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio:
Life on the Line,” by Andrew Rice. New York Times, 7/28/11.

Kevin Donohoe:
Mobile Biometrics to Hit US streets,” by D. Parvaz. Al Jazeera, 8/2/11.          

Carmen García:
Cristina y Mujica Hablaron de un Mundial y de un Tren Binacional,” by Natasha Niebisekikwiat. Clarín, 8/3/11.
For non-Spanish speakers, Carmen explains:
“Argentine president Cristina Kirchner and Uruguay's commander-in-chief are in discussions re: the two countries' ongoing conflict between the agricultural product of the two allies and how they are pledging to remain allies as the South American continent witnesses Brazil's rise to economic power. Among their agreements are strengthening the natural gas resources/ infrastructures of the two countries, as well as dredging Uruguay River's canal system.”

Sahiba Gill:
Tocqueville And the Tube,” by Ben Berger. National Review Online, 5/17/11.

Marc Kilstein:
Goldman's New Money Machine: Warehouses,” by Pratime Desai and Clare Baldwin. Reuters, 7/29/11.

Shelby Kinney-Lang:
Non-Profit News: Assessing a New Landscape in Journalism,” by Jesse Holcomb, Tom Rosenstiel, Amy Mitchell, Kevin Caldwell, Tricia Sartor and Nancy Vogt. Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, 7/18/11.

Anna Lekas Miller:
Seeking Arrangement: College Students Using 'Sugar Daddies' To Pay Off Loan Debt,” by Amanda Fairbanks. Huffington Post, 7/31/11.

Zach Newkirk:
A Disgraceful Deal,” by Robert Kuttner. The American Prospect, 8/1/11.
Zach is also reading, “The Tea Party, the Debt Ceiling, and White Southern Extremism,” by Michael Lind. Salon, 8/2/11.

Natasja Sheriff:
Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal: A Near-Justice Experience,” by Morris Davis. Crimes of War, 8/1/11

Britney Wilson:
Study: Income Does Not Explain Segregation Patterns in Housing,” by Carol Morello. Washington Post, 8/2/11. 

Memo to Frank Bruni: Women Have Been Devastated by the Economic Downturn

In April, Beyonce released her single “Girls Run the World” and was quickly “called out” by the blogosphere.

“I don’t think it’s right that she’s promulgating historical inaccuracies to impressionable young women,” video blogger nineteen percent said in a YouTube rant that went viral. “[Beyonce is] imparting the false belief that they run the world by lulling them into a false sense of achievement and distracting them from doing the work it takes to actually run the world.” 

Now New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is having his own “Girls Run the World” moment. In his column titled “Celebrating the Girls of Summer”, Bruni writes that while women were sidelined in the debt ceiling debate (he cites a Politico slideshow), beyond the Beltway they "more than held their own this summer, and gave us reasons to rejoice.” He goes on to praise the success of Bridesmaids, pop singer Adele, the US Women’s soccer team and the yet to be released film The Help.  

Never mind that Nancy Pelosi was the one who took entitlement cuts off the negotiating table, facilitated enough Democratic votes to pass the debt deal and will have the power to appoint three house Democrats to the “Gang of 12.” Blinded by his disgust for the debt deal, Bruni argues that women are doing well everywhere except Washington.

Actually, the opposite is true. 

The biggest victory for women this summer— the Obama administration’s decision to require health insurance plans to cover birth control— came from DC, not Hollywood. 

Meanwhile a slew of reports released over the past month expose the devastating toll the economic downturn has had on women. On July 6 the Pew Research Center reported that in the past two years men gained 768,000 jobs while women lost 218,000 jobs— making this "the first recovery in which the unemployment rates for men and women have gone in opposite directions."

A week after the Pew report, Time magazine released a survey showing that only 27% of unmarried women had enough money saved for retirement. And earlier this week the Huffington Post reported that 280,000 students, most of them female, had signed up online for "sugardaddy” arrangements with older men to help pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Amid these economic losses, conservative lawmakers are redoubling their efforts in statehouses across the country to effectively ban abortion.    

“The Girls of Summer” ignores this grim picture. And while it’s important to applaud positive media portrayals of women, Bruni seems more interested in Kristen Wigg or Emma Stone than the women sitting in the audience or working at the movie theater. 

There’s a different, and better way, to write about media coverage of women. In this week’s issue of The Nation, the University of Minnesota’s Mary Jo Kane also writes glowingly of the coverage of the US Women’s soccer team. But Kane’s piece doesn’t just start or end with the World Cup. She discusses the economic pressure women athletes work under, the context of the coverage and the work still to be done. Her piece stands in stark contrast to Bruni’s column, which suggests that the feminist revolution is here because a few films have portrayed women fairly. 

Frustrating too is Bruni’s narrow reading of American pop culture. In a time when the average movie ticket costs far more than the minimum wage and social media is free, why would you write a piece about cultural progress by only citing two films, a novel and a sports tournament? Maybe if Bruni had went on YouTube he would have seen nineteen percent’s video— and re-written his column. “But a simple survey of reality is we don’t run anything,” she passionately tells the camera. “These messages of girl power in art, media and music are useless unless there is actual work being done behind them.”  

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Don’t Have Sex—You Will Get Pregnant and Die

In Cincinnati, Ohio, a high school sex education teacher carefully places a Jolly Rancher candy on each student’s desk. The 14- and 15-year-old students feel the crinkly plastic wrapping in their hands, wondering when they will get to eat their tantalizing treats.

“Don’t eat the candy!” warned the teacher, although she had just finished placing one on each desk. “You must wait until after class. It will taste much better if you allow yourself to wait.”

And so begins the young Ohioans' lesson on abstinence—the only method of pregnancy or disease prevention that they will learn during their high school sexuality education class. 

One in every four adolescents receives this type of abstinence-only sexuality education. According to recent statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, 41 percent of teenagers (regardless of the type of sexuality education they received) know little or nothing about condoms and 75 percent know little or nothing about oral contraception. One in three teenagers claims to have never had any formal education on birth control, suggesting that even those not necessarily enrolled in abstinence only programs are still unable to access critical sexual health information. 

There is no significant difference in the rates of teenage sexuality in the United States compared to other similar, developed Western countries. American teens are simply far less likely to use contraception. It is no surprise that the United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy and STI rates in the developed world.

Sexuality education in the United States has evolved to teach everything besides sex itself. Although teenagers in more progressive schools may learn how to slide a condom onto a banana, they rarely learn how to access birth control conveniently and affordably. Instead, students in both abstinence only and comprehensive programs are given projects that test and assess their knowledge of how to avoid sex, rather than their knowledge of sexual health. At the end of a typical course, many students know that they can “go to the movies” or “play soccer” instead of having sex, but they do not know what to do in case their alternative activities plan falls through and the condom breaks.

Sexuality education, more intimately known as “sex ed,” began in earnest in the mid 1980s with the advent of the AIDS epidemic. Once it became established that the HIV virus spread through sexual contact, policy-makers both inside and outside the federal government felt a social and moral responsibility to educate students on disease prevention through the public school system. Despite the Regan administration’s notorious silence on AIDS and support of religion-centered abstinence-only policies, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) distributed $310 million in HIV/AIDS education marking the first federal funding for “comprehensive” sexuality education.

However, implementing truly comprehensive sexuality education was difficult during the Reagan years, despite the large grant from the CDC: less than half of the programs taught factually accurate information and many programs framed HIV/AIDS education as a gay issue and contended that homosexuality was both sinful and the cause of the AIDS crisis. Only 10 percent of the CDC programs even revealed the great value of condoms as a method of disease prevention.

And we've moved depressingly slowly since that time and, in some important respects, even backward: in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Bill, which included Title V funding—an annual $50 million allocated for abstinence-only-until marriage programs—as a rider. Although it was slated to expire June 30, 2009, it was reauthorized in 2010 as a condition of Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Thirty states currently receive Title V funding despite an $8 million Congressionally mandated study stating that abstinence-only programs do not significantly halt, or even delay, sexual activity.

In order to receive the grant, abstinence-only programs are required to teach eight key concepts, among them, that “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity” and “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical side effects.” Contraceptives are only discussed in the context of failure rates, and extramarital sex is stigmatized as morally wrong and psychologically damaging.

It is worth repeating that a full one-fourth of all American teenagers receive this type of sexuality education unfettered by any alternative views. 

Even comprehensive sexuality education—curricula that cover and discuss contraception, sexual orientation, and abstinence—can be technically comprehensive while still restricting key information. While contraception is discussed as a method for birth control and disease prevention, abstinence is often stressed as well. Class discussions and projects often show how to resist and avoid sexual encounters rather than how to practice sexual health. 

Making matters worse is the lack of any standardized program monitoring system. Though a state may provide comprehensive sexuality education on paper, what is actually taught in schools depends far more on what material the teachers are comfortable teaching and how much controversy the principal is willing to tolerate. Most teachers are not formally trained in sexuality education, and are hesitant to discuss “controversial” topics out of fear of backlash that could jeopardize their employment.

Many abstinence-only advocates further compromise comprehensive programs by pushing for sex segregation, parental notification and consent, and opt-out policies where students (or their parents) can chose an abstinence-only course instead of other fuller, if still limited, approaches. 

This is not a youth issue. This is not a women’s issue. This is a social issue. It is a war on information, waged against women and teens whose consequences ripple throughout society costing taxpayers through unwanted children, perpetual poverty and a strain on the welfare state. The real tragedy—and whatever hope there is—lies in the fact that, unlike many social issues, this one is immediately preventable.  

Illinois Passes Bill For Undocumented Youth, Makes An Even Dozen State-Level DREAM Acts

Undocumented youth in Illinois received some good news this week as Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the Illinois DREAM Act into law, making the state the 12th to pass legislation that will help young people without papers pay for college.

The bill provides a private scholarship fund for undocumented young people who attended high school for at least three years in Illinois, have at least one immigrant parent, and want to attend private or public universities in the state.

In an interview yesterday, Quinn said, “Illinois has to be a welcoming society here in the 21st century [for] everybody with nobody left out, and that’s really what this bill stands for.”

One of the biggest barriers to undocumented youths’ college attendance (at least, in states that haven’t banned their attendance) is the prohibitively expensive price of higher education, as most are ineligible for financial aid to help pay their way through college. The Illinois DREAM Act, like other similar bills, attempts to alleviate that burden through scholarships that don’t cost the state government any money. The issue of providing full citizenship for those youth, however, remains unresolved.

The ceremony yesterday was attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who indicated on the campaign trail that he would support such a bill. In a statement, the mayor plugged his new Office of New Americans, which will help immigrants to Chicago open new businesses. Emanuel has taken heat from immigrants rights groups in the past for his stances on immigration reform, although he received some praise for opening the new office.

The Illinois DREAM Act and the new Chicago office supporting new immigrant business owners are the latest policies in a state that has become synonymous with support for immigrants—at least in comparison to the many other states who continue to pass punitive anti-immigrant laws. In May, Quinn indicated his intention to pull the state outof the controversial immigrant enforcement program Secure Communities.

That support hasn’t gone unnoticed by those opposed to expanding immigrants rights: in an interview with the Chicago Tribune after Quinn tried to pull out of Secure Communities, Roy Beck, executive director of the anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA, stated, “Illinois is without competition the most pro-illegal immigration state in the country.”

While state-level initiatives like the Illinois DREAM Act are certainly positive developments for undocumented young people, DREAMers are still hurting without federal-level immigration reform. A new study in the academic journal American Sociological Review shows that while many undocumented young people do pursue higher education, few receive the income boost that a college degree gives to native-born citizens, as decent-paying job prospects post-graduation are slim for those without papers.

But most immigrant rights advocates agree that such state-level initiatives are all that can be accomplished right now. As Aswini Anburajan pointed out in March, the shifting political winds that resulted in big Republican gains in Congress in 2010 forced the immigrant rights movement to pursue a state-by-state strategy much like the movement for gay marriage. Laws like the Illinois DREAM Act will continue to be pushed in states around the country until the political will exists to pass national immigration reform that can make all DREAMers fully-recognized citizens. 

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HALTing the DREAM

Every now and then a piece of legislation comes around with a terribly creative acronym. The USA PATRIOT Act back in 2001 was one example. But rarely do two bills on the same issue appear in Congress with such diametrically opposed names and policy goals as the DREAM and HALT Acts.

The DREAM and HALT Acts are both currently being considered in Congress. DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors and laudably aims to offer specific pathways to US citizenship for undocumented students, most of whom entered the United States when they were very young. Despite being called a “win-win” by the Boston Globe and numerous other editorial boards as well as gaining elusive bipartisan support, the legislation died in the Senate during the last Congress’ lame-duck December session. Introduced again, it faces even longer odds in the current Congress, particularly in the Republican-controlled House, which has its own immigration “reform” plans.

Now consider the HALT Act, or Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act, which was introduced this July. Sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the bill would strip President Obama’s immigration discretionary powers until January 2013, when the winner of the 2012 election is sworn in. Hypocritically (or forgetfully), Smith once called for an expansion of these powers. The executive branch can only intervene in deportations in extraordinary cases, primarily in keeping families together if a spouse, parent or child of a citizen is found to be undocumented.

Current immigration law often disregards the human right to family unity,” Grace Meng of Human Rights Watch wrote in The Hill. “This power to provide discretionary relief not only helps undocumented immigrants, but provides unquestionable help to their US citizen families as well.”

To Smith and the bill’s cosponsors, these humane powers are indicative of the president’s “temptation” to grant amnesty. Never mind the well-documented numbers showing the current administration’s record levels of deportation among illegal immigrants, particularly among felons. Never mind that according to the non-partisan Immigration Policy Center the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security has an “overemphasis on deportation-driven programs.” But that won’t stop Republicans from thinking Obama is implementing some sinister “backdoor amnesty” agenda, including the DREAM Act. Vitter even characterized it as “a cover for the Obama administration’s amnesty agenda...”

The HALT Act’s sponsors and supporters seem to ignore facts and instead buy into what Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren characterized as “a diabolical plot” and a “grand scheme to avoid enforcing immigration laws” at the first House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the bill. Numerous references to a conspirational-sounding “backdoor amnesty” could be heard from Republican congressmen Smith and Elton Gallegly.

“We thought [HALT] was a particularly appropriate acronym,” Smith said during an exchange with Congressman John Conyers. Conyers noted that he had never heard of a bill with the word “temptation” in it during his 46 years in Congress but “there’s a first time for everything.” He then lambasted the motivations of the bill, saying “this [bill] isn’t an attack on the office of the president. This is an attack on Barack Obama himself.”

Whatever its motivations, the bill would inflict immeasurable harm on millions of American families. Margaret Stock, lawyer, retired lieutenant colonel, and a professor of political science at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, characterized the bill as a “major step backwards.” The bill would, among other negative consequences, “prevent the parole into the United States of many babies and children who are granted parole today in humanitarian situations…prevent family members from spending time with their dying loved ones… create chaos in the legal immigration system” by banning pending citizens to travel overseas.

For young people, the differences between these two bills could not be clearer. Nineteen year old Bernard Pastor, is a top student who arrived undocumented in the United States when he was 3 to escape persecution in Guatemala. After a minor fender bender last November, he was arrested and detained before being released in December because of deferred action.

Under the HALT Act, any such deferred action would be banned until January, 2013. Pastor would have likely been immediately deported to Guatemala, a country he has not known since he was very young. The DREAM Act would have offered the opposite result. If passed, Pastor would have been one of many talented young undocumented workers who would be offered the opportunity to live in and serve the United States. Pastor has since advocated for passage of the legislation since his release, even being called the bill’s “poster child.”

In June, the Senate held its first hearing on the DREAM Act (rescheduled from September 12, 2001). Stock testified, advocating for its passage, “The DREAM Act would allow young people who have grown up in this country, graduated from high school, been acculturated as Americans, and have no serious criminal record to go to college or serve in the military and thereby legalize their immigration status,” she read from her statement. “Those who oppose the DREAM Act often mistakenly repeat the popular misconception that these young people should just ‘get in line like everyone else.’ But without the DREAM Act, there is no line in which they can wait.”

In a statement, Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas perhaps put it best. “This is nothing more than a distraction from genuine efforts to improve our immigration system and through modest reforms like finally exacting the DREAM Act to give students the opportunity to achieve their full, God-given potential.”

In the hyper-partisan climate of a House of Representatives run by Republican extremists like Lamar Smith, politically designed bills such as the HALT Act have become routine. Though its extreme nature coupled with the need for the president’s signature make its passing unlikely, it still seems counterproductive to voice this in the immigration debate when such reasonable alternatives can be found in the DREAM Act. Distressing as it may be, there are still many in this country and in Congress who think that harnessing the hopes and contributions of bright, undocumented students is “backdoor amnesty” verging on “legalization temptation.” 

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Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important (and Undercovered) Stories

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each Monday, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

 Karla Cornejo Villavicencio:
Beck Fearmongers About Border Chaos To Attack Obama’s Gun Policy.” Media Matters, 7/20/11.

Kevin Donohoe:
Dover Hospital Spokeswoman Says State Unaware of Full Impact Medicaid Rate Cuts Will Have,” by Jennifer Keefe. Foster’s Daily Democrat, 7/27/11.

Carmen García:
Carmen has recently been reading about VozMob, a Los Angeles-based grassroots organization that strives to empower day laborers and Spanish-speaking immigrants by encouraging them to use social media and technology (cell phones, specifically) to tell their stories.

Sahiba Gill:
On Political Theology,” by Paul Kahn. The Art of Theory, Spring Issue.

Daniel Judt:
The Maze of Moral Relativism,” by Paul Boghossian. New York Times, 7/24/11.

Marc Kilstein:
Exclusive: US Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq,” by Spencer Ackerman. Wired, 7/22/11.

Shelby Kinney-Lang:
Wyoming Post Offices Studied for Potential Closure,” by Ruffin Prevost. WyoFile, 7/26/11.

Anna Lekas Miller:
There Won’t be a Male Birth Control Pill,” by Amanda Marcotte. Pandagon, 7/26/11.
Anna is also reading: “Lebanon’s Invisible Workers.” Al Jazeera, 7/25/11.

Zach Newkirk (DC):
DNC Chair: How to Stop Voter-ID Laws,” by Cynthia Gordy. The Root, 7/26/11.

Natasja Sheriff:
Appalachian Poverty Concentrated around Mine Sites, WVU Study Says,” by Ken Ward Jr. Charleston Gazette, 7/23/11.
Natasja is also reading: “Drought Does Not Equal Famine,” by Edward Carr. Open the Echo Chamber, 7/21/11.

Britney Wilson:
Katrina Bridge Shootings: Officer Fretted Over ‘Weak Link’,” by Michael Kunzelman. AP via The Grio, 7/27/11.

Muslim Students Challenge Allen West’s Anti-Islamic Speaker on Capitol Hill

This post was originally published on ThinkProgress Security and is being reposted with permission.

The Citizens for National Security (CFNS) came to Capitol Hill yesterday to give a Congressional briefing on what they consider a dangerous threat facing America: Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood. Representative Allen West (R-FL), a man with a history of fringe beliefs and Islamophobia, introduced and sponsored the CFNS presentation. Titled “Hometown Jihad on the USA,” the briefing was designed as an exposé on the Muslim Brotherhood, which CFNS said has been operating a four-phase plan since 1962 to “penetrate the United States and eventually erode its institutions, policies, and sense of self.”

At the event, which was led by CFNS’s Peter M. Leitner, the group announced they had compiled a list of more than 6,000 enemies of the state and 200 organizations that are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The organizations accused included prominent Muslim-American groups such as the Muslim Student Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

Yet in light of the recent horrific terrorist attack in Norway allegedly by Anders Breivik, the salience of Islamophobic rhetoric is certainly concerning. After all, Brievik was heavily influenced by Islamophobes in America, hated the rising influence of Muslims and multiculturalism in the West, and thought his attack was a strike against jihad enablers. His manifesto also cited CFNS board member Daniel Pipes eleven times as a supporter of his ideology.

At the event, undergraduates from the CFNS-indicted Muslim Student Association at American University pressed Leitner, concerned about copy-cat attacks and the connections between his organization’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and right-wing, anti-Islam terrorist attacks. Leitner’s response? There’s no connection, and if you don’t like my presentation, make your own:

QUESTIONER 1: Are you not worried that in wake of these attacks, there will be copycat crimes in the United States that put American lives at risk based on the kind of information and grandiose conspiracy theories that you are setting up today?

LEITNER: [...]The issue of whether or not is [Daniel] Pipes is guilty of somehow inciting, you know, this bizarre Norwegian farmer into an act of incredibly heinous and bizarre terrorism against innocent people because he reads his blogs and guzzles up the information, the answer is no, that’s an absurd claim–

QUESTIONER 1: [... But he cited your information.

LEITNER: So what? He can cite the bible, he can cite the Koran, so what? He can cite anything he wants to…It doesn’t make any differences, it’s an insane mind, it doesn’t make any difference…

QUESTIONER 2: But if you cite the Muslim Brotherhood it’s different. You can cite all kinds of people, If you’re not Muslim, you’re acting alone. But if you’re Muslim Brotherhood and you’re Muslim, you’re part of this big scheme that you could not even explain.

You can watch the video here.

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