One aspect of potential immigration reform is whether undocumented immigrants who are serving, or have served, in the U.S. military should be granted citizenship in this country. Senate Democrats have recently took a significant step towards making some real changes in this area.
Senator Dick Durbin has announced that he plans to hold a hearing in Illinois, his home state, to gather more information about how much of an impact immigrants make on the U.S. Armed Forces. This is convenient timing because Senate Democrats have been looking at adding a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act “that would allow young immigrants here unlawfully to gain legal status by serving in the military.”
The hearing's main goal will be to learn as much as possible about “the benefits of military service” from those immigrants who are known as DREAMers. This term is used to describe undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Further, they have obtained special relief from President Obama that includes halting any deportation proceedings they may be involved in. During the hearing, witnesses will be expected to testify that “immigrant enlistment is critical to military readiness and to creating a more diverse and inclusive Armed Forces,” according to Durbin personnel.
Those on the witness list include Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jessica Wright. Wright is currently serving as the acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness at the pentagon. In addition to those witnesses, Durbin has also been talking with the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), about adding a “legalization measure for undocumented immigrants - provided that they serve in the military - in conjunction with the must-pass defense policy bill.”
Of course, Durbin thinks this legislation is great for the country. However, there are others in Congress who see things differently. To begin with, House Republicans voiced their disagreement when a similar provision was offered in the House NDAA.
Meanwhile, plans continue in preparation for Durbin's hearing. It will be held at the Phoenix Military Academy. The academy is just one of many military academies located in the Chicago Public Schools system. The Chicago Public Schools system boasts the largest Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program in the nation. According to a 2013 NBC News report, about 10% of the 11,000 Chicago JROTC program do not have lawful immigration status.
It will be interesting to see what comes of these hearings and others like it. While immigration reform has stalled in Congress over this past year, it is encouraging to see that there are still some lawmakers in both the Senate and the House who wish to see some type of immigration reform passed still this year.
If you have questions about how U.S. military service or other circumstances may affect your immigration status, do not hesitate to connect with an immigration lawyer who can provide you with the information you need. My firm has helped many clients in Tucson, Phoenix, and the surrounding areas, and we can help you, too.