Vargas lobbying for the Dream Act in 2010. (AP/Alex Brandon)Young immigration activists are planning a rally in Las Vegas on Thursday to protest a military-only version of the Dream Act that has been endorsed by both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, which they call "insulting."
"We want to make sure that they're not running on this platform," Erika Andiola, an organizer of the rally, told Yahoo News. Protesters plan to try to confront candidates with their personal immigration stories, as undocumented student Lucy Allain did to Romney during a January fundraiser in New York.
Both Gingrich and Romney oppose the original Dream Act, a 10-year-old proposal that would give legal status to young illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and who attend at least two years of college or join the military.
Romney announced his support for a military-only iteration of the law after hitting the campaign trail in Florida, where more than 10 percent of GOP primary voters are Hispanic. Both candidates have tried to attract Hispanic voters in Florida and beyond--who overwhelmingly support the Dream Act--without alienating Republican voters who worry that legalization measures would serve as a "magnet" that would attract more illegal immigration.
Gingrich's sole Congressional supporter in Florida, Cuban-American Republican Rep. David Rivera, introduced a version of this bill to the House last week called the ARMS Act. If passed, undocumented immigrants under 30 years old who were brought to the country before they were 16 could apply for five years of "conditional nonimmigrant status" if they agree to join the military and pay the government an application fee of at least $525.
When that five years is up, the young person could reapply for another five years of conditional status if he or she served for at least two years of active duty, received an honorable discharge, and pays a $2,000 fee. It would be 10 years before the veterans could apply to be legal permanent residents, and several years more before they would qualify to become citizens. The legal status would be revoked if the applicant at any point became a "public charge" who relies on government assistance.
Cesar Vargas, a 27-year-old CUNY law school graduate who was brought to the country illegally when he was five years old by his family, says he is protesting the ARMS Act because he thinks the nearly 15-year wait to qualify for citizenship is "insulting" to applicants' military service. He also objects to the fee the bill would levy on those who wanted to enlist, and worries that wounded veterans could be construed as "public charges" and excluded from the process.
"You're paying to serve your country," he said.
Vargas is part of DRM Capitol group, which lobbies for the Dream Act.
Rivera says that the bill is the only practical option for young people who grew up as Americans but lack legal status.
"The ARMS Act is the only immigration reform bill that has any chance of passing in the 112th Congress. It is therefore the only hope for thousands of young people to earn legal status in America," Rivera said in a statement to Yahoo News.
Rivera's staff said that the Congressman would clarify that injured veterans do not count as "public charges," if needed.
(The freshman Congressman is facing IRS and FBI investigations over undisclosed payments made by a Miami casino to a company co-owned by his mother while he was a state lawmaker, according to the Miami Herald. Rivera denies any wrongdoing in the case.)
Vargas tried to enlist in the Marines when he was 18 years old and still wants to join, but he said he would not take advantage of this bill if passed because it would leave other "Dreamers" in his generation.
"It's not fair for those who want to serve our country as teachers, as entrepreneurs," he said. "We would never really accept this bill because it leaves so many of our friends and family behind."
Update: This post has been updated to reflect the second application fee of $2,000.
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