Editorial & Opinion

Should undocumented be allowed to enlist in the U.S. Army?

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An amendment to the annual spending bill that could have prohibited young unauthorized immigrants from joining the military was defeated in the House on June 16, 2016. The House, which is led by majority Republicans, sent a strong message that not all Republicans are in support of anti-immigrant policies.

In 2008, a recruitment program called the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest or MAVNI was established, which enabled non-U.S. citizens to join the U.S. Military. The program has been reauthorized until September 2016.

Under the MAVNI program, non-immigrants in certain categories except visitor visa holders may apply for enlistment with the U.S. Army. The nonimmigrants who are allowed to enlist under MAVNI are those in E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U or V visa categories. It requires the applicant to be legally residing in the United States for a minimum of two years prior to joining the Army without a single absence from the country lasting longer than 90 days. In addition, the applicant must have a high school diploma and a qualifying score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AQFT).

DACA recipients qualified to enlist

Generally, those who are with legal status, even if with nonimmigrant status, are the only individuals allowed to enlist in the U.S. Army. In 2014, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients were allowed to enlist under the MAVNI program. They must have employment authorization document when they apply for enlistment.

Right now the U.S. Army through the MAVNI program allows DACA recipients only with “in demand” skills to apply. Specifically, those who may enlist are individuals who are licensed health care professionals and those who can speak one or more critical language on the MAVNI list. For Filipino DACA recipients, they qualify if they speak Tagalog, Cebuano, and Moro (Tausug Maranao and Maguindanao).

Once DACA recipients enlist, expedited U.S. citizenship processing is afforded to them after they graduate from 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training. Once they are U.S. citizens, they may enjoy additional benefits for their family including the ability to petition their parents who have no legal status. There are only limited numbers of recruits that are allowed under the MAVNI program for each fiscal year and those interested may contact their local Army recruiter.

Since DACA recipients incurred unlawful status prior to being granted deferred action and being issued employment authorization document, their ability to enlist in the military maybe perceived by some as a “backdoor amnesty.”

Perhaps, not all unauthorized immigrants should be given a chance to enlist. But DACA recipients came to the U.S. at a very young age and did not make the decision to remain as unauthorized immigrants. Now, they are able to make their own decision to risk their lives, to serve and defend the country they learned to love and have embraced as their own, they should be supported.

The legislators made the right decision to defeat the bill that would have prevented them from expressing their patriotism. Inquirer.net


(Atty. Lourdes Santos Tancinco is a San Francisco based immigration attorney and may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.tancinco.com, facebook/tancincolaw, 1-888-930-0808.

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