De Leon: Democrats Should Not Capitulate on the ARMS Act


A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

The ARMS Act – the pared down version of the DREAM Act – does not make sense. By granting a path to citizenship only to those who sign up for the military, the bill precludes many undocumented youth who can contribute much to our economy and national well-being.

While it comes as no surprise that GOP lawmakers would support the measure suggested by Rep. Rivera (R-FL), it is stunning that some Democrats are actually considering the ARMS Act as a viable alternative to the DREAM Act.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, thinks the ARMS Act is “a step in the right direction.” Whitehouse told the Hill:

“If you are willing to accept that military service is the kind of bona fide that credentials a young person to take advantage of college benefits, I’d want to explore what other kinds of service might also qualify with them before I wrote off drawing the line there. I’ll do a bit more exploring but it’s a good start.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) still believes that the DREAM Act should be passed, but he is not ruling out a compromise.

“My belief is we should try to pass the whole DREAM Act. As for what compromise might come about, that’s down the road,” he said.

I don’t see why any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, should even mull the ARMS Act when a majority of Americans support the DREAM Act—which, we ought to recall, passed the House in 2010.

Moreover, do Democrats wish to further erode Latino support?

Their party’s relationship with the Latino community is stressed as it is due to their inability to pass the DREAM Act and the Obama administration’s record number of deportations.

Thankfully, there are those who will put up a firewall against GOP attempts to water down the DREAM Act.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) thinks the ARMS Act is no more than “a deeply cynical ploy” to garner the support of Latino voters and  remains committed to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth through military service AND higher education.

Douglas Rivlin, Gutierrez’s Director of Communications, explained the Congressman’s position in detail:

The Congressman thinks a military-only DREAM Act is a non-starter.  It is simply a campaign gimmick to give Republicans someplace to stand in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and other states where there are Latino voters that softens their “I will veto the DREAM Act” absolutism in South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire.  The Congressman sees it as pure politics and the legislation itself is irrelevant.  Other than — perhaps — the two remaining Representatives who voted for the DREAM Act when it passed in 2010, House Republicans are generally not interested in legalizing anyone under any circumstances, even if they have to get shot at first.

Democrats should see the ARMS Act for what it is and not compromise on the DREAM Act.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.