Veterans to Congress: U.S. Military Readiness Requires DACA Recruits

In this Feb. 9, 2017, photo provided U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE agents target a home in Atlanta. (Bryan Cox/ICE via AP)

WASHINGTON – The National Immigration Forum and Veterans for New Americans are calling on congressional leaders to pass a “permanent solution” for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries before the Christmas recess begins.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), veterans argued that DACA recipients are needed in the military.

“DACA recipients and other DREAMer enlistees have critical skills helpful to our military. For example, DACA recipients possess language skills and cultural competencies that support our global strategic interests. They also have critical medical skills and training. To date, over 900 DACA recipients have enlisted in the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) recruitment program because of their valuable language and medical skills,” the veterans wrote in a letter released a week ago.

“Without legislation, about 350 of these DACA recipients in the MAVNI program may lose their ability to join the military if their DACA protections expire while they continue to wait for background checks to be completed,” the letter continued. “Thousands more are expected to volunteer and enlist once legislation is passed. The outlook of our military readiness and national security in 2018 would both greatly benefit from these new recruits. Our years of service in defense of this country also compel us to support a permanent, legislative solution for DACA recipients who wish to serve America.”

On a conference call, retired Army Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, co-chairman of Veterans for New Americans National, said Congress should at least allow DACA beneficiaries currently in the armed services and those waiting for the completion of background checks to remain in the United States while lawmakers debate a solution for all DREAMers.

“I think they should act to fix the problems for the ones who are already in the military – just to clarify though, the Obama administration, they severely limited DACA,” she said in response to a question from PJM. “There were thousands of them who wanted to join the military when the DACA program started but the Obama administration said they wouldn’t allow them to come in unless they could qualify for the MAVNI program, and very few DACAs can meet those strict requirements or could meet the strict requirements of the MAVNI program – about 900 of them did meet the requirements of MAVNI.”

President Trump has rescinded the DACA program, which was instituted via a directive from President Obama. It officially expires in March. Trump has urged Congress to come up with a legislative solution to allow beneficiaries to remain in the country.

Stock described the entire debate over legislation to legalize DREAMers as “ironic” since undocumented immigrants are required to register for the Selective Service.

“The irony of this debate is all these young people who are males anyway are required to register for the draft, and if we had a draft we would draft them – but we bar them from enlisting voluntarily. And, of course, we don’t have a draft today – we have an all-volunteer force, but they are still required to register for the draft,” Stock said on the call organized by the National Immigration Forum.

“Many of them are hoping for the draft because they would like to serve, but we don’t have a draft. I’m not in favor of a draft. I think the all-volunteer force is great, but it is ironic that people who are required to register for the draft are barred from enlisting voluntarily – that doesn’t make any sense and I really wish Congress would fix that,” she added.

According to the Selective Service, “if an undocumented immigrant ever gets the chance to become a citizen – and he failed to register with Selective Service System before age 26 – he cannot become a citizen before age 31. He can also be permanently barred from many opportunities that could be essential to building a successful life in the United States.”

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Jim Partington, co-chairman of Veterans for New Americans National, said DREAMers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, would be a valuable asset to the U.S. military.

“The quality of these DACA youth that we meet daily here in trying to support legislation to legalize their status, they are just a truly impressive group and would be very valuable for the military in the future and make a great contribution,” he said.

Without legislative action, Stock said, about 300 DACA beneficiaries awaiting background checks would lose their legal immigration status and that would result in a loss of taxpayer funds.

“I would love to see a legislative fix for them because these are people that they have already recruited, so the taxpayers spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing these people on board already and now they will lose them,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense, and deporting them makes even less sense.”

Stock added that she believes there “could a separate solution” for military DACA beneficiaries but “it would benefit the United States even more if we allowed a solution for all of the folks with those characteristics, and not just the tiny number that managed to squeeze through under the Obama administration exception.”

“So, I would like to see a global solution for the hundreds of thousands who are out there,” she said. “The military would benefit a lot more if they could bring in more than 300, but bring in thousands and thousands of them rather than just the tiny number that got through under the Obama administration.”