Commentary Magazine


Candidates Agree on Hot-Button Issue of Immigration

Amid the increasingly pointed criticism being leveled by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich against each other, a point of agreement between them is worth noting and celebrating–especially when it comes on the hot-button issue of immigration. In the Tampa debate on Jan. 23, they were asked about the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would allow immigrants who did not enter the country legally to become permanent, legal residents and ultimately citizens by meeting certain conditions–either attending college for two years or serving in the military for two years and staying out of trouble. Here is what Gingrich had to say:

I would work to get a signable version which would be the military component. I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home.

We have a clear provision that if you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States. That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.

Romney added: “That`s the same position that I have, and that is that I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists, but I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service.”

This position is causing predictable consternation in anti-immigrant circles (see, e.g., this National Review Online column:) but it is absolutely the right position to take. What better way for anyone to earn American citizenship than through military service?

Gingrich hinted at going even further than the Dream Act–his remarks suggest he may be sympathetic to a revival of the MAVNI program (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) which was launched in 2009 to recruit non-citizens who have  important linguistic or other skills that are in short supply in the armed forces. As the New York Times noted, the program was “highly successful”: “Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.” An army recruiter said: “We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts.”

But then the program was suspended in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, which were committed by Major Nidal Malik Hassan, even though Hassan was born in the United States and had nothing to do with the program. Nevertheless, the shooting somehow cast a pall on the idea of recruiting immigrants. It would be great progress if either President Obama or his Republican challengers were to announce their commitment to restarting the recruitment of these valuable immigrants.