(Jordan Morales, CCU Senior) With the military facing recruiting shortages across all branches, the Department of Defense has had to lower their standards in order to be able to meet basic mission needs. For instance, last year the Army began accepting recruits with histories of serious mental illnesses and the year prior, they lowered the standards for their aptitude test and granted more waivers for marijuana usage. Likewise the Air Force has lowered standards for past drug use and some medical issues. The Navy, for their part, has halted discharges for fitness test failures.
In addition to the lowered standards, the military is offering various retention and enlistment bonuses to keep recruits, and even so, less and less members are re-enlisting both because of the improving economy and because of diminishing morale within the service.
So what does all of that mean? At a time when the military is stressing full spectrum readiness as it continues operations in the Middle East as well as preparing for emerging needs from more conventional threats such as North Korea, our troops need to be squared away and recruiting from a lower quality pool hurts mission readiness. The demands placed on our armed forces are great and stressful, we require the best and the brightest and it can be risky business to lower our standards.
Right now there are 900 Dreamers serving in highly skilled, essential healthcare and linguistics career fields according to FWD.us. They are recipients of DACA and are a part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. If Congress and the President fail to come to a deal to protect Dreamers, these 900 specialists will be deported. It’s hard to fill a lot of the more general career fields as it is, not to mention the highly specialized ones that these 900 Dreamers fill.
And let’s look outside of just these 900 Dreamers. With a bill such as Sen. Graham’s DREAM Act, we would inject 800,000 highly qualified potential military recruits into our country. Just in order to qualify for protections under the DREAM Act, one would have to pass high school, pass a security and law enforcement background check, be proficient in English and not have committed any felonies or other serious crimes. Not only that, one of the three ways to earn American citizenship under this bill would be to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, so there is a huge incentive to join!
Veterans for New Americans, a project of the National Immigration Forum reported that only 13 percent of 17 to 24 year olds in the U.S. are even qualified to serve in the military, meaning that we need the deepest pool of qualified candidates. A 2010 estimate said that more than 70,000 Dreamers would enlist if legislation were passed that allowed them to. That’s nearly 10 percent of all Dreamers and nearly 20 percent of the Armed Forces overall recruiting goal right there! By the way, children of these Dreamers who join up will be 8 to 10 times more likely to join the service themselves than children of people who did not serve. I can personally attest to that as all four of my siblings and I have served after my father, an immigrant from Colombia, served in the Air Force, which he joined as a non-citizen.
There is a moral imperative to passing legislation for these Dreamers. We all know that they were brought here through no fault of their own as children. We know that deporting them would mean ruining their lives and sending them to a country they do not know. We know that they are not criminals and desperately want to continue to make contributions to our society. But perhaps more pragmatic, there is a national security imperative, a military readiness need that needs to be filled, and one that the Dreamers can fill well. They can make this country stronger in many ways, but they can especially make our military stronger. I think of my own family. We are a military family, one that will produce willing and able service members for generations to come, I hope. Let’s create more military families, started on the dream of an immigrant who loves what we all love: America.
Jordan Morales is an Air Force veteran in Columbia with Veterans for New Americans, a national network of veterans that supports immigration policy that will benefit the military.