By Alan Gomez
Immigration advocates have long pushed for the DREAM Act as a way to
give children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents
a chance to become legal residents and have access to higher education.
The less publicized part of the Development, Relief and Education for
Alien Minors Act is that the Pentagon is pushing for it as a means to
staff the armed forces.
Prospects dimmed Tuesday when Senate Republicans prevented a vote on
a defense spending bill, because the DREAM Act was attached as an
amendment. Senate Democrats vowed to reintroduce it.
When the Department of Defense published its three-year strategic
plan, it listed the DREAM Act as a way it could replenish its ranks.
"If we needed to expand the pool of eligible youth, the (DREAM)
initiative would be one of several ways to do it," spokeswoman Eileen
Lainez said in an e-mail.
Retired Army lieutenant colonel Margaret Stock says a "crisis in
military manpower" is looming as the population ages and the economy
improves. She says the military struggled to recruit enough people
when the economy was booming just a few years ago because people had
more employment options.
"DREAM would give us the ability to tap into a huge number of people
who grew up in the United States, were educated here, they talk like
Americans, they look like Americans and their loyalty lies with
America," says Stock, a former West Point professor who teaches
political science at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
The act would allow illegal immigrants who met several requirements
35 or younger, came to the U.S. before turning 16, have lived here at
least five years, no criminal record and have earned a high school
diploma to become conditional residents for up to six years. They
would be eligible to become permanent residents if they completed two
years of college or two years in the military.
The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan research group that
supports an overhaul of immigration law, estimates that more than
725,000 people would be eligible immediately for conditional
residency. An additional 1.4 million would meet all the requirements
except the high school diploma.
The military part of the act worries Jorge Mariscal, director of
Latino studies at the University of California-San Diego.
He says many illegal immigrant families are too poor to pay for college.
"Our concern is that people are just going to get trapped for
economic reasons into the military," says Mariscal, who otherwise
supports the DREAM Act.
Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which advocates lower
levels of legal and illegal immigration, opposes the DREAM Act
because it does not address the larger problems of illegal immigration.
Felipe Matos would be glad to join the military under the DREAM Act.
Born to a single mother in the slums of Brazil, he came to live with
relatives in the U.S. at 14. He graduated from high school, got an
associate's degree at Miami Dade College and hopes to get a four-year
degree and become a high school teacher. He says he wants to repay
the country that gave him the opportunity to succeed.
"I have friends who would have loved to join the military," says
Matos, 24. "I feel that all of us are just trying to serve and
contribute to the only country we know and love."