WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials have approved a policy that would allow a limited group of undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to enlist in the military, opening up a path for them to eventually become citizens, The Huffington Post has learned.
The move, which has not been formally announced by the Obama administration, would affect some of the roughly 550,000 undocumented young people granted the ability to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, many of whom have pled with the government to allow them to enlist.
Immigrants in the country legally can enlist in the military, and through their service, they can receive expedited naturalization as U.S. citizens. More than 89,000 service members have gained citizenship since September 2002, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But young undocumented immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, cannot currently enlist, even if they have been granted work authorization and the ability to remain in the country under DACA.
The new change, under a Pentagon recruitment plan called Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, would allow some undocumented immigrants with critical language or medical skills to enlist in the armed forces -- considerably limiting the number of Dreamers who would be eligible. Roughly 3,000 legal immigrants have enlisted through the MAVNI program since 2009, and now the program will be open to those who are in the country illegally.
Members of Congress have increasingly called for Dreamers to receive permission to enlist in the military. Those young people can apply for DACA to receive work authorization and the ability to stay in the country for two years, with the possibility to renew. Dreamers have to meet a number of qualifications for the program, including having come to the U.S. before the age of 16; having been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012; and having attended or graduated from high school or received a GED. They do not qualify if they have been convicted of a felony, "significant misdemeanor," three or more misdemeanors or are deemed a threat to security.
A measure called the Enlist Act, put forward by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), was recently blocked from receiving a vote as part of a defense spending bill in the House. The legislation would allow Dreamers to enlist in the military and eventually apply for citizenship. Although they didn't allow a vote on the Enlist Act as an amendment, House GOP leaders said they were open to allowing a vote on the standalone bill in the future.
The Pentagon's decision, though limited in scope, is likely to face criticism from some Republicans, who say undocumented immigrants should be ineligible for military service because they are in the U.S. without authorization and argue that they take jobs from would-be American service members. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) criticized the Enlist Act in April as a magnet for unauthorized immigration and dangerous for national security.