The Defense Department said Monday (5/19/14) it is looking at expanding its application pool by letting some young illegal immigrants join the military, in what could be another tool for an Obama administration seeking unilateral steps to take on immigration reform.
Immigrant rights advocates are pleading with the Pentagon to declare “dreamers” to be vital to the national interest, which would allow them to enlist in the military under a special program that grants non-immigrants a quick pathway to citizenship in exchange for years of military service. Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said Monday that the Pentagon is in the middle of that review and hopes to complete it by the end of the summer, and is discussing the proposal with the Justice and Homeland Security departments. They are reviewing what “vital to the national interest” means.
As movement on a broad immigration bill has stalled on Capitol Hill, immigrant rights advocates and Democrats in Congress have called for President Obama to move unilaterally to deport fewer illegal immigrants. The president has asked his homeland security secretary to review policies, but Monday’s hearing signals that the Pentagon is also part of the effort.
Military enlistment is generally open only to citizens and legal permanent residents, or green card holders. The one exception is the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which allows the department to take other recruits whom the Pentagon deems crucial. These individuals usually have key medical or language skills, at this time Spanish is not deemed a critical language.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who orchestrated Monday’s hearing, urged the Defense Department to declare all young illegal immigrants who have taken advantage of Mr. Obama’s 2012 DACA known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival — to be eligible for the military accessions program. More than 500,000 so called dreamers what these young people call themselves after failed legislation known as the Dream Act have been granted deferred action status, and an estimated 65,000 illegal immigrants graduate from high schools in the U.S. every year.
Mr. Durbin said given potential recruiting challenges for the military, the Pentagon could open another pool of applicants if it let dreamers qualify for the national interest exception. Once they are enlisted in the military, they would have a speedy pathway to citizenship.