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DoD Expands Service Opportunity to Illegal Immigrants During Continued Troop Drawdown

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Author: Wendy Innes
Created: 17 October, 2014
Updated: 15 October, 2022
3 min read

A new DoD policy, unveiled September 25, will allow a limited number of illegal immigrants to join the nation's military. Aside from security risks, some service members are outraged that the policy is being implemented in a time when tens of thousands of troops are being removed from active service rolls. In addition, critics of the president say Obama is using this, and other policies, as a sort of back-door amnesty, since immigration reform has been bogged down in political minutia for years.

The change is actually an expansion of an old program. Renewed just five days before it was set to end, Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MAVNI, has allowed immigrants to serve for years. However, those immigrants who served had to be in the country under one of 22 allowed legal statuses, in addition to meeting other criteria. Those in the country illegally, even if they were brought to the country as children, could not serve -- until now.

As is expected, not everyone is happy about the new policy.

Critics of the policy, as well as troops currently serving, say it is not fair to citizens who have served honorably, but are now being let go as a result of sequestration. During the previous fiscal year,

10,000 troops were removed from the active rolls. Some of these soldiers received the news while still serving in Afghanistan, making preparing for life after the military almost impossible. Another 20,000 troops will be let go by the end of the current fiscal year.

For some, this program doesn't go far enough. According to the Dream Action Coalition, while they are encouraged by the change to MAVNI, they believe President Obama is playing politics by not allowing all illegal immigrants who would otherwise be qualified to serve to join the military and have a path to citizenship. Currently, there are specific limitations as to who can apply, and the program already has a significant backlog of applicants.

At one time or another, non-Americans have served honorably with U.S. forces since America was born. However, critics do raise some valid security concerns, especially considering the threats being made by ISIS and other terrorist groups. There have been instances of young people becoming radicalized and then attempting to carry out terrorist acts. It would be devastating should some of those people find their way into the armed forces.

The DoD was contacted to find out what measures, in addition to the standard background checks, would be used to ensure security. As of now, the department has not responded to any requests for comment.

The military isn't taking just any immigrant that wants to apply. They must meet certain criteria, above and beyond that which is usually required for military service, including possessing certain vocational skills or cultural knowledge and agree to a minimum length of service.

But by expanding MAVNI, DoD officials hope to attract recruits who possess highly desirable skills, such as needed medical expertise or personnel who can speak languages not broadly spoken in the U.S., such as Farsi, Pashto, Arabic, and the Chinese dialects. These are notoriously difficult billets to fill.

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The new MAVNI program will allow the military to recruit up to 1,500 non-citizens per fiscal year, though exactly how many of that 1,500 will be made up of illegal immigrants is unknown.

Photo credit not attributed.

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