Michael Nazario, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant living in Arizona, said he wants to join the military to fight for and defend the United States, the country he has called home since he was four years old.
He became interested in the military after joining his high school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, which he led as cadet battalion commander during his junior and senior year.
“That’s when I realized I wanted to join the service and give back to my country,” said Nazario, whose father served in the military in Mexico.
But because federal laws only allow U.S. citizens, legal residents or individuals who possess skills that are “vital to the national interest” to enlist, undocumented immigrants, like Nazario, cannot join the military.
However, a bill introduced Thursday by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) could overturn that.
Bill would broaden the pool of those eligible to serve
The Military Enlistment Opportunity Act of 2013 would allow individuals benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative and those who have resided with a lawful status in the U.S. for two years to enlist. The bill would also give these individuals access to a path to citizenship through the naturalization process currently in place for military service.
Nazario said he commends Coffman for introducing the bill, which he said would allow him to join the U.S. Marine Corps to become an officer, possibly a drill instructor. His ultimate goal is to work for the Joint Chiefs of Staff advising the Secretary of Defense.
“I want to be able to advocate for policy changes within the Department of Defense that would benefit our service men and women and our country,” Nazario told VOXXI.
Coffman, who is a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran, said in a statement, “My late father, a career soldier, taught me that there is no higher demonstration of American citizenship than serving one’s country in the military.”
The Colorado congressman argued that the military would benefit from the skill sets that foreign students studying in the U.S. possess as well as from deferred action recipients who desire an opportunity to serve.
“They grew up here, went to school here, and they ought to have an opportunity to serve the country they call home,” Coffman stated of deferred action recipients.
In past years, other members of Congress have introduced similar bills that would let dreamers join the military but haven’t been successful in getting them passed. The latest one was the ARMS Act, which former Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) introduced last year.
Such proposals have received support from top military leaders, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Opponents argue the military should be reserved for U.S. citizens and legal residents because of national security concerns.