De Leon: The ARMS Act Does Not Make Sense

Marine is sworn in as a US Citizen

Marine is sworn in as a U.S. Citizen. (NYC Marines/flickr)

Republican Rep. David Rivera proposed a bill late last week which would give undocumented youth a path to citizenship.

The Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act – the ARMS Act – is a pruned version of the DREAM Act. Immigrant youth who were brought into the United States illegally as children have the chance to change their status by attending college or joining the military under the DREAM Act. Rivera’s measure only allows undocumented youth the opportunity to legalize through enlisting in military service.

“If somebody is willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America,” Rivera told the Miami Herald.

Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney support the ARMS Act.

“I think there is no opposition to that part of the DREAM Act,” Gingrich told a gathering of the Latin Builder’s Association Friday. “I think it should go through immediately.”

Undocumented youth, however, are not as enthusiastic about the ARMS Act.

Juan Escalante, a DREAM Act activist, says that “the ARMS Act is the GOP ‘dream’ of the Dream Act.”

“The ARMS Act is an opportunistic attempt, in my opinion, from the GOP trying to capitalize some DREAM Act momentum,” he said.

Escalante is not the only DREAMer who opposes the military-only version of the DREAM Act.

Colorlines reporter Julianne Hing wrote that undocumented youth ask, “why it is that the only way they can serve the country they’ve grown up in is by joining the military. Undocumented youth argue that they are fully capable of serving the country in many other ways.”

Escalante, who has no objections himself to the military component of the DREAM Act, said, “It seems foolish to me that you could only be granted relief by risking your life for this country. What are those doctors, lawyers, or politician scientists such as myself, going to do?”

“Better yet, is the United States ready to deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers?” he asked.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, released a statement characterizing the ARMS Act as “a distortion of the DREAM Act.” He argues that excluding legalization through higher education “would provide the wrong incentives for military enlistment during a time of war.” Some undocumented youth might sign up out of desperation and not because they are interested in military service.

Noorani also contends that “by denying immigrant students the right to higher education, America is losing out on their entrepreneurship, productivity and economic contributions.”

The ARMS Act does not make sense. It appears to be a thinly veiled GOP attempt to pander to military hawks while dangling a bittersweet fruit in front of Latino voters turned off by the immigration rhetoric spewed during the Republican presidential primaries.

There is something mercenary about the idea.

The fact of the matter is a majority of Americans support the full DREAM Act. In December 2010, the bill passed the House by a resounding vote of 216-198 but failed in the Senate by five votes.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging anyone to enlist with the military. If done voluntarily it is a noble act which should be applauded and held high as an example. But there is more than one way to serve your country.

Undocumented youth, if given the chance, would educate our children, heal our sick, strengthen our economy and yes, die for the country they consider their own.

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.

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.