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Bid to toughen specialized military route to citizenship not included in $575 billion defense bill

By Bertrand M. Gutiérrez, Winston-Salem Journal

Ever since the Obama administration started temporarily shielding from deportation certain younger immigrants who had been living in the United States illegally, eligible immigrants have been able to access such benefits as a work permit and a driver’s license.

But, for them, obstacles remain.

Under the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, there is no direct path to citizenship or the possibility of changing unauthorized immigration status — even while beneficiaries are considered to be lawfully present in the U.S.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tried to add what DACA supporters would view as another obstacle.

Referring to DACA as “backdoor amnesty,” Gosar introduced legislation in the U.S. House aimed at thwarting DACA recipients from possibly gaining a path to citizenship as a result of serving in a specialized U.S. military program.

Supporting the proposal were the 10 GOP members of North Carolina’s delegation: U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, Walter Jones, Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, David Rouzer, Richard Hudson, Robert Pettinger, Patrick McHenry, Mark Meadows and George Holding.

“As a longtime opponent of President Obama’s unconstitutional amnesties for illegal immigrants,” Foxx said in an email, “I voted this week to prevent the president from turning a special recruiting program for legal immigrants at the Department of Defense into a backdoor path to citizenship for amnesty recipients.

“Instead of using the military to advance his shortsighted immigration agenda, President Obama should be working with Congress to provide the military the resources and authority it needs to focus on worthwhile priorities such as destroying ISIS,” said Foxx, who represents the 5th Congressional District.

The state delegation’s three Democrats opposed the legislation: Reps. Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price.

In a vote of 211-210, the Gosar amendment failed — with the help of several Republicans, many of them from states with large Hispanic populations, including Texas, California, Illinois and Florida.

Early efforts

Many DACA beneficiaries were brought into the U.S. illegally when they were children by relatives.

In 2010, before DACA was implemented, the U.S. House passed the DREAM Act, which would have provided younger unauthorized immigrants a path toward fixing their immigration status, but the legislation failed in the U.S. Senate, with five Democrats, including then-Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, voting against it.

A subsequent effort by a group of Senate Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, to pass comprehensive immigration reform failed.

In 2012, the Obama administration implemented DACA.

To qualify, applicants must have been under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and reached the United States before their 16th birthday. Among other conditions, they must not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors, and must not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The filing fee is $465, according to the agency.

David Chung, a member of the advocacy group United We Dream and a DACA beneficiary, said last week in an email that DACA has “transformed my life.”

“It’s hard to believe, but I am now actually a home-owner,” Chung said. “DACA has been a big deal for me but most importantly, it has shown our entire community that despite the odds, we can fight and we can win.”

Although legal action — U.S. v. Texas — has blocked the Obama administration from expanding DACA to include certain parents of beneficiaries, the original program remains in effect.

More than 700,000 people in the U.S. have obtained DACA status since the program’s start in 2012, according to the immigration service.

MANVI program

Nearly two years ago, the Pentagon announced that DACA beneficiaries would be allowed to enlist in a trial program known as Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MANVI, which had been open only to immigrants with legal immigration status.

Potential recruits with certain skills — physicians, nurses, and certain experts in language with associated cultural backgrounds, for example — are eligible, according to a memo by the U.S. Defense Department.

The pilot program aims to recruit up to 5,200 people through Sept. 30, 2016.

“Individuals who have been granted deferred action by the Department of Homeland Security pursuant to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process are eligible for consideration,” the memo says.

Gosar, who said that 141 DACA beneficiaries had been let into the pilot program, introduced an amendment Thursday to the $575.8 billion defense-spending bill, or National Defense Authorization Act, aimed at restricting money from being spent on it.

The program was not supposed to be “utilized for the benefit of illegal aliens,” Gosar said. DACA beneficiaries can be granted citizenship if they are deployed to a combat zone for at least one day, according to Gosar. He said his amendment would have returned the program to its original intent.

The defense bill also continues a ban on the moving of prisoners held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States. And the bill denies the use of any money for the construction or modification of a facility in the U.S. to replace the prison at Guantanamo.

Those provisions were led by Hudson, the 8th Congressional District Republican.

“We are at war with radical Islamic extremists,” Hudson said, “yet our commander in chief is so focused on closing Guantanamo Bay that he ignores the danger represented by these terrorists. The president’s plan is as dangerous as it is naive, and my amendment is another hurdle to make sure it never happens.”

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