Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
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.
Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)
Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.
Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.
75 years ago, Audie Murphy earned his Medal of Honor with nothing but a burning tank destroyer's .50 cal and insane bravery
Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018
On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.
Florida senators are pushing for Purple Hearts for service members wounded in the NAS Pensacola shooting
Florida's two senators are pushing the Defense Department to award Purple Hearts to the U.S. service members wounded in the December shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Navy Department is in the middle of a new force-structure review, which could change the number and types of ships the sea services say they'll need to fight future conflicts. But instead of trying to project what they will need three decades out, which has been the case in past assessments, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the services will take a shorter view.
"I don't know what the threat's going to be 30 years from now, but if we're building a force structure for 30 years from now, I would suggest we're probably not building the right one," he said Friday at a National Defense Industrial Association event.
The Navy completed its last force-structure assessment in 2016. That 30-year plan called for a 355-ship fleet.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The police officer killed during a traffic stop in Newport News on Thursday night was a well-liked young officer who just graduated from the police academy seven months ago, Police Chief Steve Drew said at a somber news conference Friday.