Boccieri: Immigrants Who Defend America Earn Their Citizenship
Veteran lawmaker pushes back against Military Amnesty Prevention Act

State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today defended the ability of immigrants to serve in the U.S. military. Republican Congressmen and women are pushing for a newly introduced bill, the Military Amnesty Prevention Act, which bans undocumented immigrants who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from enlisting in the military. Congress generally grants the Secretary of Defense the authority to deem what program is appropriate as it relates to recruitment for the national defense of the United States.

“This bill is an election year stunt used to stir up emotions about our national immigration debate. It’s very sad to see such partisan support for this bill because military service has always been a bipartisan issue,” Rep Boccieri said. 

Over the last decade, Congress has amended national law and the military has implemented new programs to encourage enlistment and rapid naturalization of non-citizens who serve honorably during times of conflict. According to the Immigration Policy Center, the military would be unable to meet its recruitment goals or fill its need for foreign language translators, interpreters and cultural experts without the contributions of immigrants. The center also points out that from the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, immigrants have made significant contributions to the United States in all branches of the military.

Under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, the Pentagon already allows legal immigrants with specialized skills to enlist in the military as a part of the path to full U.S. citizenship. Although the bill would not change that initiative, it would walk back the Pentagon’s 2015 expansion of that program to allow undocumented DACA immigrants to qualify.

Republicans in Congress argue that the Pentagon’s action created a back-door amnesty program. The members of Congress backing the military ban suggest the threat of terrorism is too great within our military to allow immigrants to serve, despite no data supporting that position from the Department of Defense. In fact, the Pentagon currently utilizes a program allowing eligible immigrants to serve in the armed forces during times of war as a path to naturalization under a special statute.

“Since 9/11, nearly 60,000 immigrants have won their citizenship by serving under the flag of the United States, using the Wartime Military Naturalization law,” Rep Boccieri explained. 

U.S. Representative Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), the lead sponsor of this new legislation, also attempted to add his bill as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. However, leadership rejected his move to bring it up for a vote.

“I didn’t see this type of anti-immigrant sentiment when Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, a non-citizen from Guatemala, died for a country he didn’t belong to in a 2003 tank battle in Iraq,” Rep. Boccieri said. “Nor when President Bush visited two wounded non-citizen soldiers and granted them citizenship on the spot.”

“People who are not citizens but wish to serve our nation wearing a military uniform—people who have the courage to fight and die for our nation—in my opinion have the right to live here,” Rep. Boccieri concluded.

Lance Corporal Gutierrez was granted citizenship posthumously.

Rep. Boccieri is a 22-year Air Force Veteran who completed four rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Lieutenant Colonel, he currently serves as the 757th Air Force Reserve Squadron Commander at the 910th Airlift Wing. He also served in the 111th Congress.  

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