Undocumented Immigrants May Now Join the Military

The U.S. Military has now opened its doors to undocumented young immigrants. The new policy which was announced last September 25 by the Defense Department will be implemented under an existing program known asMilitary Accessions Vital to National Interest or MAVNI. It will allow those who were granted deferred action under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to enlist.

Approximately 5,000 non-citizens, most of whom are permanent residents, are recruited in the military each year. The MAVNI programallows the recruitment of immigrants with skills that are considered critical to the national interest. The program is currently open to individuals with certain temporary visas with advanced medical skills, or who can speak certain languages.

The number of recruits per year under the program is limited to 1,500. Because of the limited scope of the program, it is uncertain how many of the estimated 580,000 DREAMers will qualify.

The lure of the program, despite the obvious risks of being in the Army, is the expedited route to naturalization that it offers. Over 92,000 foreign-born service members have become U.S. citizens since 2001.

The U.S. military has a history of recruiting non-citizens for service during a time of national need. Filipinos were recruited into the Navy after the signing of the Military Bases Agreement in 1947, which allowed the U.S. to have military bases in the Philippines. Over 35,000 Filipinos joined the Navy between 1952 and 1991.

Ordinarily, immigrants on temporary visas wait many years to become permanent residents and usually an extra five years to become naturalized citizens. Service members under this program can become U.S. citizens in as short as 10 weeks.

The MAVNI program was created to fill medical specialties in the military in which it has a shortfall, which include dentists, surgeons and psychology professionals. Health care professionals must meet all qualification criteria for the medical specialty, demonstrate proficiency in English, and commit to at least 3 years of active duty or 6 years in the Selected Reserve.

It has sought to recruit native speakers of any of 44 languages with cultural backgrounds. Tagalog and Cebuano are included. Applicants under this category must demonstrate language proficiency, meet all existing enlistment eligibility criteria and enlist for at least 4 years of active duty.

“We’re just not sure how many within that existing population of DACA would have the linguistic skills to qualify,” says a defense official. “These are kids who entered the country at a fairly young age and have basically grown up in the United States, so the limit of their language talents would probably be the language that they received at home.”

Before the announcement of the new policy thousands of undocumented young immigrants who were granted DACA status were clamoring to enlist in the military but were not eligible under this program. Many believe that allowing them to enlist would help fill recruitment shortages.

Although the change in policy is narrow and limited, it is the hope of immigrant advocates that the Obama administration would soon allow a greater number of undocumented immigrants to serve in the military.