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Thinking outside the (immigration) box

The idea of serving one's country is not a new one. Most people associate that noble endeavor with military service, but there are many ways to give back to the USA. Most of us in the 'baby boom' generation remember the Peace Corps whose mission includes giving technical assistance to people outside the United States and helping them understand and appreciate our American culture through interaction with Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs).

While the Peace Corps' work is largely devoted to improving infrastructure and economic development, the sustaining benefit is the comingling of cultures. Each PCV is an American citizen, usually with a college degree. They work abroad, with governments, other non-profit organizations and NGOs (non-government organizations) after they've gone through three months of training in the U.S. Created in 1961 by the Kennedy Administration, the Peace Corps celebrates its 57th birthday on March 1st this year. Its first director was President Kennedy's brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver. The Peace Corps helped fulfill a goal of the Kennedy Administration: to spread the word about democracy and to help impoverished countries develop their infrastructure with projects in remote villages and towns. Americans of all backgrounds have devoted hundreds of thousands of hours of their time over the decades to create partnerships and friendships among countless numbers of citizens in the developing world.

Can the Peace Corps be used at home?

It seems obvious to me that our own domestic challenges of inner-city poverty, crime, homelessness and drug addiction are great enough to warrant setting up a new millennium Peace Corps right here at home. For decades, we have been using 'granting' (money) as the weapon to combat these scourges to our society instead of tapping into our own people power. In line with the President's pledge to, "Make America great again," we ought to be thinking of ways to create new synergies (the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects), especially in our urban metropolises. One such synergistic partnership could be to involve the one million plus DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients in a government-sponsored program akin to the Peace Corps. Let's call it the Legacy Corps (LC) for want of a better name. In exchange for a pathway to eventual citizenship, each DACAn would be required to work in the LC for two years, in their communities, on pre-arranged and pre-approved, government-sponsored infrastructure projects or in community-based self-help organizations.

While doing their work they would be required to take vocational or other training that would assure them a foothold in a specific industry when they 'graduated.' It could be the building trades, or the service industry, IT, STEM or a number of other job areas. This training would give them credits towards a degree in their chosen profession should they choose to pursue a college education. With every specialized training regimen there would be a basic curriculum that would include English language instruction and a course in applied civics. Successful LC DACAns could also earn extra credits by reaching out to their undocumented immigrant parents and give them English language and civic awareness instruction. This is a true win-win situation that would help strengthen families and communities. It would improve the opportunities, skills AND standard of living for at-risk, inner-city dwellers and would insure a heightened level of civic responsibility among two generations of immigrants.

It's high time we explore some solutions that fall somewhere between the 'carrot and the stick' and realize that we cannot afford to lose any group of people by enacting laws that either punish or reward, unfairly. America must continue to be the land of opportunity...through creativity.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired U.S. diplomat and now political analyst and author. He has written eight books and over 800 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at:

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