Enlisting Could Be Fast Track to Citizenship

Measure in Senate dangles possible citizenship to immigrants who fight in Iraq.

Sept. 23, 2007 — -- The Senate will debate a proposal this week billed by some as a creative solution to two of the nation's hot-button issues -- immigration and the Iraq war.

If passed, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act promises a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who volunteer for military service.

"If they'll serve in the military for two years, or they'll complete two years of college, we can put them on a path to legal status," said Sen. Richard Durbin D-Ill.

The DREAM act has bipartisan support. On the Republican side, it's one of the few war-related measures Sens. John McCain and Chuck Hagel agree on. And the Democratic sponsors include Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The measure comes up for debate this week, as part of the massive Defense Reauthorization Bill. Some estimate about 360,000 illegal immigrants with high school diplomas and clean criminal records would be eligible.

The proposal presents answer for the military, which has had recruitment problems following a deadly and drawn out war in Iraq.

However, some immigration reform advocates believe DREAM would take advantage of the people who have the fewest options in life.

"I characterize it as a defector draft," said Jose Lara, an immigration reform advocate.

Green-Card Soldiers

Currently, more than 40,000 so-called green-card soldiers serve in Iraq. They are military personnel who are permanent legal residents of the United States, but not citizens.

Spc. Zeida Nino, serving in Baghdad, said being a green-card soldier gave her a fast track to citizenship.

But illegal immigrants are not allowed to enlist.

"The question is, 'What should we do with them,'" Durbin said. "Should we give them a chance to go on and serve this nation and make it a better place, or tell them to leave? I think it's better to use their skills."

Even though previous attempts at comprehensive immigration reform failed, some wonder if DREAM really is the best solution.

"We're looking for any option -- anything," Lara said, "and what they're giving us is, 'Go in to the military, die in Iraq, possibly come back maimed and then possibly gain citizenship.'"

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