Congressman Joaquín Castro (TX-20), a rising star in the Democratic Party and fierce immigration reform advocate, introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015 that would give the opportunity for students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status to apply and be eligible to enroll in U.S. Military academies. Congressman Castro argues that it does not make sense for DREAMers who have lived the majority of their lives here to be granted work-permits and social security numbers under DACA, yet still be ineligible to apply to military academies such as West Point in New York. “The Administration’s Deferred Action policy allowed many of these DREAMers to live, study, and work in this country without the fear of deportation. However, we must ensure that the doors of opportunity are not closed to them as they strive to get ahead.” The amendment would give students the opportunity to apply and be accepted, but would not in any way modify or change the requirements to attend one of the academies.
There is also a personal reason why Congressman Castro believes this amendment is needed. He talks about being impacted from the life of Omar, a senior in high school from San Antonio. According to Congressman Castro, Omar is a stellar student who benefited from DACA, and has even received various offers from different colleges. Sadly, his dream of joining the U.S. Army will not be possible because of his current immigration status. If the amendment is successful, students like Omar would be able to apply to West Point. In a statement Congressman Castro said, “That is why I’m introducing this amendment to allow these young people to have the opportunity to apply to our military service academies and eventually serve as leaders in the only country they have ever known. Though this is a small change to the to the eligibility requirement, it will make a huge difference in the lives of students like Omar, a San Antonio high school student who has been preparing through JROTC to apply to West Point, but whose status got in the way. I met Omar when he came as my guest to the State of the Union Address this year. Getting to know this student was a humbling illustration of the work-ethic and desire DREAMers have to serve and defend our nation.”
Similarly, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California filed his own amendment yesterday known as the ENLIST Act. This bipartisan amendment “provides an avenue for those who want to perform the ultimate act of patriotism — serving their country — to earn legal status,” said Denham in a statement. This comes after the GOP leadership explicitly said that no type of immigration-related legislation would be voted on. The spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said on Friday, “No proposed ENLIST amendments to NDAA will be made in order.” Still, the amendment is gaining some steam, and is currently co-sponsored by 50 House members, 24 Republicans and 26 Democrats.
While there is some support of allowing DREAMers to enroll in military academies, there are some that argue this would further reduce the competitive slots for applicants that are legally here in the country. The current acceptance rate to West Point is an astonishingly low 9%. In other words, it is easier to get accepted to an Ivy League institution such Dartmouth College (with a 9.8% acceptance rate), than to the U.S. Army Military Academy. If DREAMers are permitted to apply, how would that change the acceptance rate dynamics of these academies? That is a question that remains to be seen if the amendment passes. Yet, what is known is under current Department of Defense guidelines, all the military academies accept international students from certain countries every year. Therefore, if we have slots for international students, why not have some for our own?
Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.