By Jeremy Herb - 01/27/12 06:03 PM EST
A freshman Republican congressman from Florida is proposing a bill to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship through military service.
Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) proposed a bill this week similar to the DREAM Act but aimed only at those who serve in the military. Illegal immigrants are currently not allowed to join the military.
In fact, Rivera’s bill was inspired by the discussion on immigration during Monday’s presidential debate in Florida, The Miami Herald reported.
“If these young people are willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America,” Rivera said in a statement.
Rivera told the Herald that after Gingrich backed the idea and Romney supported it at Monday’s debate, he decided to introduce the legislation.
"With the presidential debate...and with Romney's support, that means the two front-running candidates are supportive of it, and that could help these kids," Rivera said. “Then Republicans in Congress [might] say, 'If our two presidential front-runners are fine with it, most Americans would be fine with it.' "
Rivera defended the former House Speaker on Friday as he was taking fire for his “language of the ghetto” comment, which Romney attacked in an advertisement that became part of the discussion at Thursday’s debate.
“The only candidate who has shown respect to the Hispanic-American community for the most part in this election is Newt Gingrich, with the way he has developed a humane and reasonable immigration policy,” Rivera said on CNN Friday.
Gingrich in turn endorsed Rivera’s bill at a speech to the Latin Builder’s Association on Friday, according to The Boston Globe.
“I think there is no opposition to that part of the DREAM Act,” Gingrich said. “I think it should go through immediately.”
Rivera’s bill, called the ARMS Act, would grant illegal immigrants who join the military the ability to apply for permanent resident status after five years.
Potential applicants would have to serve at least two years in active-duty or four years in the reserves and would have to demonstrate “good moral conduct.”
The bill would only apply to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 and have been living in the country for at least five years. Applicants would also need a high school diploma or equivalent.
The DREAM Act, which passed in the House in 2010 but failed in the Senate, would have granted a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who join the military, but it also would have given the same path to those who go to college.