Pentagon's Plan to Enlist Young Immigrants Is Delayed

Monday, 02 Jun 2014 06:58 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The White House has asked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to postpone implementation of a plan that would allow a select pool of illegal immigrants to enlist in the armed forces, The New York Times reported.

The Obama administration said it wanted to give Republicans in Congress a chance to act on legislation legalizing immigrants and did not want to irritate lawmakers by taking further action they would view as constitutional overreach by the president.

Targeted at those who came to the United States illegally, perhaps with their parents, the plan would fast-track the naturalization process under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program.

The program, which has 1,500 slots — and a backlog of applicants — requires that applications be physicians or similar medical professionals, or have language proficiency in Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, or key African languages. Those currently eligible have temporary visas. Hagel's policy would extend eligibility to young people with deportation deferrals. It is unclear how many illegal immigrants would have the necessary qualifications and also be able to pass tough background checks, said Margaret Stock, who was involved in creating the special program when she was in the Army Reserve, the Times reported.

In any case, the administration wants to avoid a quarrel with GOP lawmakers. Cecilia Muñoz, the White House domestic policy adviser, said, "We will reassess once we see what Congress does or doesn't do. The president is convinced there is a legislative opportunity, and that gives us the best chance to fix what is broken in our immigration system. He wants to leave no stone unturned to let the House do what it should do," according to the Times.

The plan is far too limited for some in the president's camp. Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin wants to see many more young people made eligible for enlistment. Hagel's plan qualifies only those whose deportations have been delayed under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or so-called Dreamers. The Dream Action Coalition, which lobbies for legalization of undocumented immigrants, also complained that Hagel's policy failed to "fully tap into the great potential of Dreamers who want to serve this country in uniform," according to the Times.

There are some 550,000 illegal immigrants of enlistment age, the Times reported.

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