After the dueling presidential speeches at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials conference in Orlando this weekend, voters are faced with a clear choice when it comes to dealing with the undocumented children of illegal immigrants growing up in the U.S.: Mitt Romney says they should have to serve in the military in order to earn their citizenship. President Obama says those who seek an advanced education should get a chance at being a citizen.
DREAM Act supporters reject Romney’s plan, even though it would provide a path to citizenship for children now living virtually their entire lives underground in America. Romney is going further than some of his own advisers when he provides at least some path for undocumented youth to become citizens. So what’s the problem? Why are DREAMers and their advocates continuing to reject Romney’s plan? The issue, they say, is fairness.
“You’re basically putting undocumented youth in a corner where they have to choose whether they enlist in the military to continue living a life in the shadows,” said Mayra Hidalgo, an undocumented college graduate planning to seek a graduate degree now under the new White House policy ending deportations of DREAM-eligible youth.
Hidalgo confronted Romney after his NALEO speech, asking him what he’d do for people like her. She went away from the encounter without an answer, she said.
“We are just as American as anyone else, we’re just missing a piece of paper,” she said of Romney’s plan. “We deserve to have the choice and say in where our future’s going to take us. We deserve to have control of our lives enough in which we can say no or yes concerning joining the military.”
Other advocates for undocumented children say that compromising on the education path for DREAMers would deny the country more highly-educated citizens, which is what politicians on both sides say the country needs to grow.
“It’s important to have an education component or at least have the option of higher education as a route for someone to get their residency,” said Shiu-Ming Cheer, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center. “In part that’s because I think in general we want to encourage people to see higher education.”
The Washington Post’s Suzy Khimm crunched the numbers and found that Romney’s military-only DREAM plan would only provide a path to citizenship for 1.5% of undocumented youth in the country today.
Cheer said that Romney’s plan might help build up the Armed Forces, but it’s unlikely it would do much to help DREAMers.
“I think in part maybe they’re looking at the particular needs of military,” she said when asked why people favor a military-only option. “I don’t see why it has to be mutually exclusive, why we can’t have both options so that young people can themselves make the choice.”