On Monday, a Pentagon official declared that the Obama administration may issue a directive to allow DREAMers who have received temporary amnesty under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action program to enlist in the military by this summer.
Testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing in Chicago on “Immigrant Enlistment,” Jessica Wright, the Acting Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness at the Defense Department, said the White House, the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security are working together to possibly expand the “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI)” pilot program to include DREAMers, who are ineligible to enlist in the military.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate Majority Whip and Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said in his opening testimony that if Congress does not pass amnesty legislation, the “Defense Department should use its authority under current law to authorize the enlistment of Dreamers” by deeming them “vital to the national interest.”
MAVNI was ushered in by George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Wright said the policy department at the Pentagon has determined that the “vital to the national interest” phrase is for “very specific skills” like medical professionals and various languages. Wright said that Spanish was not one of the languages that is considered “vital to the national interest” for the purposes of MAVNI because, “we have a number of Spanish speakers within our military.” If DREAMers who currently have temporary amnesty and work permits are allowed to enlist in the military though the MAVNI program, they would also be put on an expedited path to citizenship.
Wright also said it was “very important to take a look at the MAVNI program” to examine further what “vital to the national interest” means before noting that she could not tell the subcommittee what that phrase means at this point in time or the various occupational specialties that may be deemed “vital to the national interest.”
“We believe that we will have some sort of a more affirmative answer by the end of the summer 2014,” she said.
Wright also said the Pentagon “is not doing this in a vacuum” and is talking to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice in addition to the White House.
“We are joined at the hip with the White House,” she said, “because, as you know, our president is very concerned and is also very ‘pro’ when it comes to reforming immigration.”
Wright said it was “very important to us that we are” in concert with what the “White House thinks is important.”
Durbin, who co-wrote the Senate’s amnesty bill, has reportedly been working with Sen. Carl Levin (R-MI), the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about including a provision in the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to grant amnesty to illegal immigrant DREAMers who serve in the military.
Such provisions have met resistance in the House. But even after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) reversed course on allowing such an amendment to the House’s version of the NDAA, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) filed his amendment on Monday anyway.
As Breitbart News reported, sixteen former U.S. military leaders wrote Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and emphasized that it would be a “serious mistake to open up military service to those known to have violated the laws of the United States” because they have “acted in a manner inconsistent with the oath to support and defend the Constitution that they will be required to swear upon enlisting.”
The officers also warned that the ENLIST Act or similar amendments could be used to grant broader forms of amnesty.