The Pentagon approved a policy that will allow a small group of undocumented immigrants to join the military, potentially creating a path to citizenship for them, according to a report by the Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly and Elise Foley. The new policy will affect immigrants currently enabled to remain in the country by the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a program that benefits certain law-abiding young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of sixteen. The new military policy, however, only extends to immigrants with certain specialized skills.
As a general rule, federal law provides that “no person shall be naturalized unless he has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence,” a rule that excludes DACA beneficiaries. A program known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), however, permits non-citizen members of the armed forces to “naturalize without first obtaining a Green Card.” Previously, the MAVNI was open to other non-citizens without green cards, such as refugees and foreign nationals who obtained asylum in the United States. This new Pentagon policy expands the scope of that program.
The scope of the Pentagon’s new policy, however, is still likely to be quite limited. The MAVNI program permits non-citizen health care professionals or “Enlisted Individuals with Special Language and Culture Backgrounds” to join the military, but it does not benefit potential enlistees who do not possess these skills or backgrounds. Thus, many young undocumented immigrants who would like to take advantage of this opportunity to join the armed forces will be unable to do so.
On Saturday, the White House asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to hold off on the policy until August in order to give Congress more time to work on permanent immigration legislation.