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.

Source: Alan Gomez for USA Today.

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