Should illegal immigrants be allowed to become citizens of the U.S. through military service? This question is somewhat moot since they are already doing it and it there is a long history of immigrants serving in the U.S. armed services going back to the American Revolution. Thousands of people are currently serving in this status but as many as 40 of them have had their enlistments revoked recently because of security concerns (see https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/07/05/army-discharging-immigrants/762021002/). Data from our survey show that academy cadets do support this idea with 52% of them saying that they favor allowing non-U.S. citizens to serve in the military with the hope of gaining legal citizenship status in the U.S. compared to only 38% of their civilian college peers.
The idea of alternative pathways to citizen is one foundation of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act introduced in 2001 by United States Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) which would provide permanent legal residence to immigrants who either complete two years of college or serve in the U.S. military. It is important to note that our data show that most people do not oppose the use of military service to gain access to citizenship: more than two out of three people do not oppose the idea.
Education as a pathway to citizenship, another dimension of the DREAM Act, is a different matter. In this case, more civilian students (41%) would support the idea compared to only 31% of military cadets and 27% of ROTC cadets – and larger proportions of the latter groups oppose it.
The DREAM Act has come up multiple times for debate but it has never been passed. Given the current debate over immigration policy, the DREAM Act holds the promise of creating a way of managing the demand for entry into the U.S. that will satisfy both liberals and conservative but there are two parts to this story: military service and education. Previous research with our data show that cadets are more conservative in their political orientation than their civilian peers, probably explaining why the cadets are more open to the military pathway to citizenship while civilian students see education as more viable than cadets.
None-the-less, large proportions (as many as 1 out of 3) of both groups are uncertain about the DREAM Act, they simply don’t know enough to decide whether military service or higher education should serve as a means of legitimizing immigrants into the U.S. Should this act be brought back to a vote, current citizens will have to be better educated on it before it will gain any traction.