U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) re-introduced his ENLIST Act, H.R.1989 to allow otherwise qualified, undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents to earn legal status through honorable military service.
The legislation was introduced in the previous Congress to which it had 24 Republican co-sponsors and 32 Democratic co-sponsors; in each session Denham also offered the text of his bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“Young people who volunteer to put their lives on the line defending our nation show the highest possible respect for the principles that make America great,” said Denham.
Notably, immigrants have fought in every major conflict since the beginning of the nation. Over 660,000 military veterans became citizens through naturalization between 1862 and 2000.
“Through their patriotism, legal status would be earned with their honorable service should they choose to pursue it,” said Denham. “The ENLIST Act would not change immigration law, but it would allow young Americans the chance to serve the country they love. With its bipartisan support, it should be a top item of discussion as we consider much-needed fixes for our broken immigration system.”
There are a slew of preconceived notions that have surrounded Denham’s ENLIST Act, however, the legislation only applies to individuals brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own prior to 2011; individuals coming to the States after 2011 would not be eligible.
Individuals who qualify under the legislation would be required to serve out the term of their enlistment contracts in order to receive legal permanent resident (LPR) status. LPR status would not be achievable should the individual not serve their full terms, or be dishonorably discharged.
Denham described that during his 16 years in the Air Force, and while serving in Operations Desert Storm and Restore Hope, he served alongside many immigrants that were wholly dedicated to the United States and its best interests.
Denham stated that the legislation would not serve as a reward to undocumented immigrants who broke the law to enter the U.S., rather, he explained that, “we shouldn’t hold society’s most vulnerable persons responsible for the actions of their parents.”
“These individuals were brought here as young children, through no fault of their own,” said Denham. “They know no other country to call home. Allowing them to serve in the military is not a reward or job. Serving your country is a sacrifice that could result in the loss of life for the freedoms of protecting our great nation.”
Denham’s bill would not allow undocumented immigrants to take priority over U.S. citizens to enlist in the military, or deny Americans the right to serve. Rather, the legislation only allows undocumented children to apply to serve; it would not guarantee acceptance. The legislation keeps enlistment at the sole discretion of the respective military branches, meaning that the individual must fit all other requirements.
Under the bill, military forces would continue to accept the very best of their applicants, regardless of heritage. Individuals wishing to apply would need to meet enlistment requirements, including speaking English, passing a background check, and having a high school diploma.