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All You Have to Do Is DREAM

It hasn’t received much attention, but added at that last minute to the recent immigration reform bill was a provision called the DREAM Act, which has strong bipartisan support from such disparate backers as John Kerry and Orrin Hatch. This legislation would create a fast-track toward citizenship for a select group of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the U.S. before age 16, have no criminal record, graduate from high school, and then complete two years either in the military or in college.

This is a good step but doesn’t go nearly far enough for my liking. The essential principle of the DREAM Act—that you can earn citizenship through productive behavior—ought to be expanded. We should offer citizenship to anyone who is willing to serve a set term in the U.S. armed forces—say, four years. This is a proposal that I’ve made in several articles over the past few years, and one that could address a number of problems at once. It could lessen our current recruiting difficulties, increase the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within the armed forces, and provide a fresh path to assimilation for a self-selected group of highly motivated immigrants.

Under this plan, standards would not be dropped for our armed forces—they would actually be increased. At the moment, to maintain recruiting numbers, the army, in particular, is accepting more recruits who would not have been signed up a few years ago—those with low intelligence scores and records of minor criminal offenses. The army is also flunking fewer recruits out of boot camp. By dramatically expanding the recruiting pool—from only American citizens or green card holders to anyone anywhere on earth who would like to become an American citizen—we would make it easier to maintain the high standards that our professional military requires. All recruits, American or not, would have to know English, pass background checks, have a high-school diploma, and so forth.

This would be a natural expansion not only of the DREAM Act but of existing legislation which provides a faster path to citizenship for the 40,000 green card holders currently serving in the U.S. military. Many of them have distinguished themselves on the battlefield, as this Washington Post article notes.