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Army speeding up recruitment of 'Dreamers'

The Hill logo The Hill 5/7/2015 Kristina Wong
Army enlisting 'Dreamers' as Congress debates immigration action © Provided by The Hill Army enlisting 'Dreamers' as Congress debates immigration action

The Pentagon is speeding its recruitment of illegal immigrants in a program that fast tracks them to U.S. citizenship as Congress debates allowing the military to do so.  

Since January, the Pentagon has enlisted 81 illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and qualify for President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, according to figures provided by the Army on Thursday. 

Between January and April 8, only 43 had been enlisted, an Army spokesman said.

Since then, at least 38 more recruits have signed up. 

The growing numbers come as members of Congress debate whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to enlist in the military. 

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine veteran and son of Hispanic immigrants, inserted a provision in the 2016 defense policy bill that would encourage the Defense secretary to consider qualified illegal immigrants as "vital" to national security. 

The House is scheduled to debate the provision defense bill next week. But some House Republicans, led by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), are trying to strip the provision, arguing it endangers the bill's passage. 

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he will propose an amendment during consideration of the bill to strip the provision if it has not already happened by then. 

Gallego's provision could help pave the way for more DACA participants to be recruited through a Pentagon program known as the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI. 

That program was created for legal immigrants with medical training or critical language skills deemed vital to the national security, according to its creator, retired Lt. Col. Margaret Stock. 

The MAVNI program was temporarily stalled last year after the Pentagon ordered all services to also begin allowing qualified illegal immigrants through, since the program was not geared to accepting those without legal documents. 

This year, the Pentagon expanded the number of slots available from 1,500 to 3,000, and is slated to expand that number to 5,000 in October. 

Army spokesman Wayne Hall said the 81 MAVNI enlistees have signed enlistment contracts, but are not yet officially in the Army. 

He said they will have to complete a "very thorough" background check, and will not begin basic training until that process is complete. 

He also said the expansion of the MAVNI program was needed to fill the Army's ranks with "highly qualified Soldiers who fill critical shortages."  

He said that, so far, none of the new enlistees have applied under the "health care professional category" of the  program. 

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