Pen­tagon looks to en­list young il­le­gals seek­ing ci­ti­zen­ship

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

The De­fense Depart­ment said Mon­day 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.

“It’s very im­por­tant to us that we are in con­cert to things that the White House thinks are very im­por­tant, and we do too. So we’re look­ing to move for­ward on what ‘vi­tal to the na­tional in­ter­est’ means,” Ms. Wright said at a hear­ing in Chicago.

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.

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.

Only those with key med­i­cal or lan­guage skills qual­ify, and 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 non­de­por­ta­tion or­der — known as De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rival — to be el­i­gi­ble for the mil­i­tary ac­ces­sions pro­gram.

“If you are will­ing to sign up in our mil­i­tary and risk your life for Amer­ica, you should be given that op­por­tu­nity,” Mr. Durbin said.

Those who have re­ceived the de­ferred ac­tion hold ten­ta­tive le­gal sta­tus to re­main in the U.S. and have been granted work per­mits. Many states are grant­ing them in­state tu­ition rates at pub­lic col­leges. They call them­selves dream­ers af­ter failed leg­is­la­tion known as the Dream Act.

More than 500,000 dream­ers have been granted de­ferred ac­tion sta­tus, and an es­ti­mated 65,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants grad­u­ate from high schools in the U.S. ev­ery year, the De­fense Depart­ment said.

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.

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates hoped not to have to rely on Mr. Obama. They thought Congress might pass the En­list Act, of­fi­cially grant­ing dream­ers a chance to join the mil­i­tary.

In­deed, Democrats and a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans hoped to of­fer that pro­vi­sion as part of the de­bate on the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill, which comes to the House floor this week.

But some de­fense ad­vo­cates crit­i­cized the move.

“The En­list Act is un­nec­es­sary for na­tional se­cu­rity, makes a mock­ery of U.S. im­mi­gra­tion law, and is a slap in the face to those who want to come here and play by the rules,” said James Jay Carafano, vice pres­i­dent for for­eign and de­fense pol­icy stud­ies at The Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, is urg­ing the De­fense Depart­ment to al­low young il­le­gal im­mi­grants who have taken ad­van­tage of Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2012 non­de­por­ta­tion or­der to en­list in the mil­i­tary, mak­ing them el­i­gi­ble for U.S. ci­ti­zen­ship.

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