Contentious Fight on DACA Military Enlistment

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The divide between Democrats and Republicans over the issue of immigration showed itself again this week as the House of Representatives saw a contentious debate between the two parties on the topic of military enlistment for young undocumented immigrants who’ve been granted work permits under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigrants. In response to a measure introduced as part of the Defense Depart spending bill by conservative immigration hardliner Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), the House narrowly voted against prohibition of the use of federal money to recruit and enlist DACA immigrants by margin of 211 to 210.

DACA applies to certain young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and who have worked toward at least a high school education, among other requirements. DACA-status immigrants are protected from deportation. Official guidance on the DACA policy says the protected status doesn’t provide a pathway to legal permanent residency or to eventual citizenship. However, immigrants who serve in the military can be granted citizenship with one day of service in a combat zone.

Some DACA-status immigrants have already been allowed to enlist in the military through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. The program actively recruits immigrants with high-value language, medical or cultural skills to serve in the armed forces. Gosar’s proposed amendment would have prohibited using the MAVNI program to recruit DACA-status immigrants.

Pentagon officials introduced a pilot program nearly two years ago that allowed DACA-status immigrants to enlist in the military under MAVNI. Previously, MAVNI had been open only to legal immigrants.

According to a published report from political news publication The Hill, 141 DACA-status immigrants have been recruited into military service since April of this year. For Gosar and other conservative Republicans who are against DACA immigrants serving in the military, a policy of allowing noncitizen immigrants to serve is akin to de facto amnesty.

“It’s not for the president to use this as a blanket amnesty,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in his support of the measure. Over the course of his terms in office, King said, “The president has relentlessly amended immigration law by executive fiat and executive edict.”

While all House Democrats voted against the bill, 30 Republicans in the legislative body who hold more centrist immigration views joined them in defeating the proposal. In arguing their position against the proposed amendment, Democrats said the proposal was little more than a byproduct of the immigration views promoted by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“They come here in the spirit of Donald Trump,” Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) said in voicing her opposition to the proposed amendment. “What we’re seeing with these amendments is part of a larger pattern of hostility toward Hispanic Americans on the part of the Republican Party.”

But the proposed measure would also effectively handicap the military, argued Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). Gallego, an Iraq war veteran, told colleagues that the military should be given the latitude to recruit anyone who could serve and help the nation.

“Simply put, we shouldn’t let political posturing stand in the way of our military’s requirement goals,” Gallego said.

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