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A new bill would offer undocumented 'Dreamers' US citizenship in exchange for military service
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Josh Harder knows there's little chance that a big immigration bill will pass in Congress this year. But so-called Dreamers — people who came to the country illegally as children — in his district want any path to citizenship they can get.
"I've heard from Dreamers, 'Just give me any route,'" Harder, D-Calif., told McClatchy.
Those conversations led to an unusual move by the freshman Democrat. He's taking up legislation that was the brainchild of his opponent and predecessor, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, that would allow Dreamers to both enlist in the military and obtain citizenship through service in the armed forces.
Harder is reintroducing the bill at a time when immigrants who want to join the military and subsequently obtain citizenship are facing even tougher odds of achieving their goals. Recent figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show enlisted immigrants are denied citizenship at a higher rate than civilian immigrants under President Donald Trump's administration.
"Right now, we're penalizing service," Harder said. "I don't think anyone wants that."
Dreamers as a group have never been permitted to enlist, although immigrants with legal permanent resident status and certain immigrants with specialized skills can serve in the U.S. military.
Harder's bill, called the Enlist Act, defines eligible candidates as those "unlawfully present in the United States on December 31, 2012, who: (1) have been continuously present in the United States since such date; (2) were younger than 15 years of age when they initially entered the United States; and (3) are otherwise eligible for original enlistment in a regular component of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard."
That language is meant to make all Dreamers eligible under the bill, rather than just Dreamers who signed up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program under former President Barack Obama.
But there's a major problem with that, said retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, an attorney who specializes in representing immigrant soldiers in her private practice. She called the bill's language "unworkable," for anyone familiar with how military enlistment works.
"Military recruiters aren't immigration lawyers and cannot tell if someone 'is eligible for' DACA," Stock said. "Recruiters need a valid Social Security card and an immigration status that can be verified immediately and electronically by (the Department of Homeland Security). Otherwise they are prohibited from enlisting a person."
She said the bill would need to include language that specifically says those who signed up for DACA are eligible. Staff of the House Armed Services Committee pushed back on that idea, however, saying the Department of Defense could set up criteria to vet and verify candidates who apply under the bill.
"Just as they do under current law, the DoD will still have to identify the criteria any individual must meet in order to enlist — this bill does not change that," the staff member said.
Currently, only immigrants who have legal permanent resident status, known as a green card, can join the military. Dreamers cannot obtain green cards.
Certain immigrants could also apply through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interests program, known as Mavni, which allows immigrants with specialized skills in areas such as languages and medicine to join. Dreamers can enlist through that program, but it has been severely curtailed by the Trump administration.
Under Denham, an Air Force veteran, the Enlist Act had 219 cosponsors, a majority of members in the House of Representatives. But it was never taken up by Republican leadership in the House and had no companion bill in the Senate. Efforts by Denham to add the language of the act to military budgets and spending bills always failed.
Harder's bill, introduced Thursday, has 17 bipartisan co-sponsors so far. "If there's anything that could actually get across the finish line on immigration, it would be this and fixing the agriculture labor visas," Harder said.
According to the most recent USCIS data available, the agency denied 16.6% of military applications for citizenship, compared with an 11.2% civilian denial rate in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, a period that covers October to December 2018.
The rate of denying to enlisted immigrants spiked to 20% under Trump in the first quarter of 2018, and has mostly remained at a higher rate than civilians throughout Trump's presidency.
The military has had persistent recruitment issues recently. It missed its original goal for Army recruiting by 6,500 soldiers last year, according to Stock. Not enough people who are eligible to join the military want to join, she said, which means officials either need to make joining more attractive or open their ranks to more people, namely immigrants. That has to be done through Congress.
"The military has a fundamental demographic problem right now — it's supposed to look like America and it doesn't," Stock said.
©2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
2 years after the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions, the Navy has no idea if its new ship-driving training is working
Two years after a pair of deadly collisions involving Navy ships killed 17 sailors and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, the Navy still can't figure out whether its plan to improve ship-driving training has been effective.
In fact, according to senior Navy officials quoted in a recent Government Accountability Office report on Navy ship-driving, it could take nearly 16 years or more to know if the planned changes will actually have an impact.
The command chief of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, was removed from his position last month after his chain of command received evidence he disrespected his subordinates.
An Air Force private housing company faked its maintenance records to get millions of dollars in bonuses
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - A U.K. company that provides housing to U.S. military families came under official investigation earlier this year, after Reuters disclosed it had faked maintenance records to pocket performance bonuses at an Oklahoma Air Force base.
At the time, Balfour Beatty Communities said it strove to correctly report its maintenance work. It blamed any problems on a sole former employee at the Oklahoma base.
Now, Reuters has found that Balfour Beatty employees systematically doctored records in a similar scheme at a Texas base.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on ProPublica.
It was 10 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2018, when the phone rang in Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson's home tucked into a wooded corner of Northern Virginia.
Benson had just gotten into bed, and his chest tightened as he saw the number was from Japan. It was his Navy attorney calling. The lawyer said he wished he had better news, but he'd get right to the point: The Navy was going to charge Benson with negligent homicide the following day.
Benson, 40, stared at the ceiling in the dark, repeating the serenity prayer as his feet pedaled with anxiety. Next to him, his wife, Alex, who'd followed him through 11 postings while raising three kids, sobbed.
Seven months earlier, Benson had been in command of the destroyer the USS Fitzgerald when it collided with a massive civilian cargo ship off the coast of Japan, ripping open the warship's side. Seven of his sailors drowned, and Benson was almost crushed to death in his cabin. It was then the deadliest maritime accident in modern Navy history.
Benson, who'd served for 18 years, accepted full responsibility. Two months after the crash, the commander of the Pacific fleet fired Benson as captain and gave him a letter of reprimand, each act virtually guaranteeing he'd never be promoted and would have to leave the service far earlier than planned. His career was essentially over.
Then, days later, another of the fleet's destroyers, the USS John S. McCain, collided with a civilian tanker, killing 10 more sailors. The back-to-back collisions exposed the Navy to bruising questions about the worthiness of its ships and the competency of the crews. Angry lawmakers had summoned the top naval officer, Adm. John Richardson, to the Hill.
Under sustained fire, Navy leaders needed a grand, mollifying gesture. So, in a nearly unprecedented move in its history, the Navy decided to treat an accident at sea as a case of manslaughter. Hastily cobbling together charges, the Navy's top brass announced — to the shock of its officers — that the captains of both destroyers would be court-martialed for the sailors' deaths.
The Navy told ProPublica that “given the tragic loss of life, scope and complexity of both collisions," it had an “obligation to exercise due diligence" and its investigation had “informed charges against" Benson and the captain of the McCain.
To many officers, the Navy had gone too far. “There was a deflection campaign," one admiral said recently, likening the Navy's response to shielding itself from an exploding grenade. “It was pretty clear Richardson wanted to dampen the frag pattern."
Even then, no one, least of all Benson, could have predicted how relentless the Navy's pursuit of him would be.