Immigration activists are complaining that a move by the White House to open up limited military positions to undocumented immigrants is too little, too late.
On Thursday, the Department of Defense announced it would open up an existing program for legal immigrants, Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, to undocumented immigrants who have qualified for deportation relief through the administration’s deferred action program.
But activist groups, who have long called on Congress and the White House to allow DREAMers to serve in the military, say the move will likely benefit only a handful of undocumented immigrants. Recruits qualify primarily by demonstrating “critical language and culture skills” in 44 languages for which there’s high demand for skilled speakers. Examples include Arabic, Urdu, or Swahili. Spanish is not among them. The number of recruits is capped at 1,500 per year.
“We're not going to leave anyone behind,” said Cesar Vargas, a prominent DREAMer activist who has proclaimed his desire to join the military. “There’s other talented young DREAMers with other critical skills that the military needs who should have the opportunity to serve the country they call home.”
After the White House delayed a planned overhaul of immigration policy until after the midterm election, groups like United We Dream are trying to keep pressure on President Barack Obama to grant broader relief from deportations and to provide more access to institutions like the military.
“It’s really important that this does not become a new benchmark, where the administration believes that if it gives us a new benefit that only benefits very few people it will silence our demands,” Felipe Sousa Rodriguez, deputy managing director at United We Dream, told reporters in a press call organized by several activist groups.
Despite early momentum, bipartisan efforts in Congress to open up the military to DREAMers have stalled this year. Mitt Romney supported the idea of a military path to citizenship for DREAMers in his 2012 presidential campaign, even as his call for a broader policy of “self-deportation” pushed Latino voters overwhelmingly towards Democrats. But conservatives have squashed efforts by Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California to pass the ENLIST Act, a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship via military service.
"Today's decision from the Department of Defense is a step forward for DREAMers who want to serve this great country,” Denham said on Thursday. “Unfortunately, while it mirrors the intent of my ENLIST Act, it would not allow all qualified the opportunity to serve the country they know as home.”