Defense bill amendments would protect, curb enlistment program for immigrants with in-demand skills

Defense bill amendments would protect, curb enlistment program for immigrants with in-demand skills
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Several amendments to the annual defense policy bill focus on a Pentagon program that allows immigrants with in-demand skills to enlist in exchange for expedited citizenship.

The amendments come as the Pentagon is reportedly considering halting the program, known as the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, and canceling the enlistment contracts for more than 1,000 recruits, putting many of them at risk of deportation.

Several Democratic amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) seek to stop the Pentagon from doing that. Meanwhile, a couple of Republican amendments seek to tighten the program.

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The MAVNI program was started in 2009 to recruit legal noncitizens with urgently needed medical and language skills. In exchange for enlisting, they were promised expedited citizenship.

On the Democrats’ side, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) filed an amendment that would prohibit the Defense secretary from stalling, suspending or canceling the program in fiscal 2018.

Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreWisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality Democrats offer bill to encourage hiring of groups hard-hit by pandemic MORE (D-Wis.) filed an amendment that would prohibit the Defense secretary from canceling enlistment contracts of MAVNI participants until the Pentagon sends a report to Congress “outlining why the particular skills of the individual are no longer needed or in the national interest.”

Moore’s amendment would also require the secretary to take steps to protect recruits whose visas expire after they enlist but before they begin basic training, as well as requiring a report on how to ensure those recruits aren’t deported and are able to serve without “undue delay.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) also filed an amendment to prevent the Pentagon from sharing a MAVNI participant’s information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless the secretary certifies that person poses a threat to national security.

And Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) filed an amendment that would express the sense of Congress that people who enlist through MAVNI should not be deported because their visas expire.

On the Republican side, an amendment from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) would prohibit funding from being used to extend an Obama administration change to the program that expanded eligibility to some brought to the country illegally as young children, known as deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA).

Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarWashington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally Police brace for Capitol rally defending Jan. 6 mob Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments MORE (R-Ariz.) filed a similar amendment, though his simply says the memo expanding eligibility to DACA participants would have no force or effect and could not be reissued or extended.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), meanwhile, filed an amendment that would specify in U.S. law that the secretary can only authorize the enlistment of someone who is not a citizen or legal permanent resident if he determines that person “does not present a counterintelligence or security risk.”

The amendments to the NDAA must make it past the Rules Committee before coming to a vote on the House floor. The Rules Committee will consider NDAA amendments on Wednesday.

Updated at 5:56 p.m. July 7.