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Program to Allow Dreamers into Military Must go Back to the Drawing Board

Cesar Vargas, Co-Director of DRM Action Coallition and founder of the #DreamArmy, speaks about the challenge to update Deparment of Defense policy to allow undocumented youth with Deferred Action to serve in the Army Forces. 

Written by Cesar Vargas, DRM Capital Group

    Last September, when it was announced that the Department of Defense (DOD) would start allowing DREAMers with DACA to serve in the military, as the founder of the #DreamArmy (DREAMers who want to serve in the military), I received countless excited calls from Dreamers from around the country. Upon reading the details, however, it wasn’t hard to see that the new policy was flawed preventing these same Dreamers from enlisting. It was even less surprising when I was notified  the program would be halted due to administrative difficulties.

  The MAVNI program allows non-citizens to enlist in the military if they have certain skills.  Currently, this includes physicians, nurses in specialized fields and experts who speak “strategic” languages such as Pashtun or Arabic.  Not only would this stringent criteria disqualify the vast majority of DREAMers who wish to serve their country, but those who could qualify would very likely not make the cut as the 1,500 slots would already be filled by the time any Dreamer applies.

Cesar Vargas, founder of the #DreamArmy -DREAMers who want to serve in the military-

  In addition, almost all DREAMers with DACA have relatives who are undocumented.  The Pentagon currently bars recruits who have family members without legal status, though it has not been enforced uniformly.  In addition, applicants for MAVNI must provide an I-94 card, a government document completed by the government when an immigrant enters the US. Many DACA recipients were typically brought to the US without documentation and do not have this card.

  “The MAVNI program is not designed for DACA at all,” said Margaret Stock, a retired Army officer who advocates for more immigrants in the military and put together the MAVNI program.  “It was rather alarming to see DACAs being put into MAVNI.  Someone didn’t know what they were doing,” she explained.

  It is the administrative challenges just mentioned that likely spurred the DOD to halt the program. While deeply flawed, this program was attempting to make progress in letting DREAMers serve in the military.  This has been a legislative topic since Rep. Denham’s (R-CA) ENLIST Act.  This legislation would have allowed those with DACA to serve in the military, however, despite being literally the least they could do to reform some small part of our immigration system, it hit resistance with conservatives.

  Currently, more than 2/3 of America’s youth fail to qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral or educational shortcomings.  This puts increasing stress on our already-strained military families as soldiers are sent for multiple tours of duty. This policy of excluding DACA recipients from the military simply makes no sense: someone with DACA is a young person who came into the country as a child and grown up as an American. In addition to diversity and language skills, allowing DACA recipients to serve in the military would bring other critical skills such as those in the STEM fields and cyber security.

  Service nowadays is something that has not been a central feature of our country: Fewer than 1 percent of Americans currently serve in the U.S. military. Former U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently made the case for universal national service because "talk of service is largely confined to buoyant commencement ceremonies. And too often it is just that: talk." While other Dreamers are serving their country as teachers or advocates, there are also many ready to answer the call for military service to the country we call home. It's time to update Defense Department policy and allow those who wish to serve in the Armed Forces the opportunity to become the next generation of soldiers and commanders. 


About the contributor: Cesar Vargas is a nationally recognized leader and innovator at the forefront of the groundbreaking DREAM movement. Cesar graduated with honors from the philosophy program at St. Francis College. A recent law school graduate, Cesar Vargas, quickly learned that his commitment to serve his community reaches far beyond the courtroom as he fights for others like him to be admitted as licensed lawyers. From New York to Washington D.C, he has actively been involved in the fight for the DREAM Act and immigration reform. He was one of the leading advocate during the 2010 lame duck session to push for the DREAM Act. Cesar also advocates for DREAMers to be able to join the U.S military.



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