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Bill would give illegals citizenship through service

Jan. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
In an image posted on his Flickr page, Rep. Mike Coffman is seen meeting with undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and want to join the military.
In an image posted on his Flickr page, Rep. Mike Coffman is seen meeting with undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and want to join the military. (Flickr)
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A Colorado lawmaker is urging Congress to pass legislation that would give illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship through military enlistment.

The Military Enlistment Opportunity Act would let undocumented immigrants who have been screened by the Homeland Security Department, as well as “documented, legally present non-citizens” the chance to join the military with the promise of receiving permanent residence status.

Permanent residence could be rescinded, however, if the member is discharged under other than honorable conditions before serving a period totaling five years.

The bill is a military-only version, somewhat, of the DREAM Act. That legislation, which has not passed Congress, would grant temporary residency to undocumented residents who have graduated from a U.S. high school and served or studied at least two years in the military or a four-year college.

Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican and retired Marine major from Colorado, said the legislation is needed “for America to take full advantage of the talents of these individuals.”

“Many young people prefer, like I did, to enter military service rather than attend college right away and those who have the desire and skill to be accepted ... should have the opportunity to serve,” Coffman wrote in a letter Thursday to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

The bill, HR 435, was introduced a year ago and has 14 co-sponsors from both parties, including Iraq war veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

Under the legislation, it would be legal for those who have lived in the U.S. for at least two years and have been screened under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to join the military.

It also would allow visa holders residing in the U.S. and not eligible to serve, such as students studying math, science and technology fields, to apply to enter the military, giving them permanent residency status.

Coffman said the legislation would help the military branches by clearing a way for a pool of educated candidates to enlist and obtain security clearances, which currently, they aren’t able to obtain.

“Having them immediately processed for citizenship will allow the military to use these new recruits to their highest potential,” Coffman said in a release.

To join the U.S. military, potential recruits must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien and be at least 17 years old with a high school diploma.

The Defense Department also runs the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which allows certain residents on visas to join the military, provided they have the needed documents and have a specialized skill or talent needed by the military services.

Opponents say that by offering a “military-only” route to citizenship, the bill would exploit those who feel they have limited options for economic security.

“This legislation would mean that the military would become a potential way for 400,000 people to quickly gain the secure status that would otherwise not be available to them ... watch as a new class of disadvantaged youths is exploited to maintain our global military reach,” wrote Rick Jahnkow, program coordinator for the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, in the online publication Draft Notices.

In his letter to the majority leader, Coffman urged Cantor to include his legislation in future bills and urged House Armed Services Committee colleagues to conduct hearings on the issue.

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