Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday February 13th, 2014, 6:34pm

Gutierrez Presses Military About Enlistment Policies For Citizens With Undocumented Dependents

U.S. Congressmen Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) and Mike Coffman (R-CO,6) are calling on military officials to promptly investigate whether U.S. citizens with undocumented immigrant family members are being barred from enlisting in branches of the Armed Forces.

The two congressmen on Wednesday sent a letter to the secretaries of the Air Force, Army and Navy, urging them to finish a review of the U.S. Armed Services' enlistment policies. 

The congressmen, along with 31 other House members, first requested answers about possible exclusionary enlistment rules in a letter they sent to the secretaries on November 21. Illinois Democratic Reps. Bill Foster (11), Mike Quigley (5) and Jan Schakowsky (9) signed on to that letter.

The bipartisan group of 33 congressmen raised concerns about the issue following reports of military recruiters rejecting enlistments from U.S. citizens with spouses and children living illegally in the country.

"There is no reason I can think of why any branch of the military should restrict the military service of individuals based on the immigration status of someone else in their family. None," Gutierrez, chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in November. "I want to know where this is happening, why and what is being done to fix it."

Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran, added that service in the U.S. military "is the highest duty one can perform for the country, so I am very concerned about the possible exclusionary enlistment policies currently being implemented by our armed service branches."

The Navy and Marine Corps have written rules that bar American citizens from enlisting in the military if their spouses or children do not have the proper immigration status. The Army also has an unwritten policy to the same effect, explained Anchorage-based immigration attorney Margaret Stock, an expert on immigration issues related to the military. The Army, Marine Corps and Navy have reportedly had these enlistment regulations for at least three to five years, as reported by Fronteras. The Air Force does not have a similar enlistment policy.

It is not known how many American citizens have been prevented from enlisting in the Armed Forces due to the immigration status of their dependents because the military does not track such information, Stock said. Another problem is that there has been a uneven application of the regulations.

For example, Stock said she knows of people who have enlisted in the Army in the last few months who have undocumented spouses. And the spouses have had no problem receiving a military ID card, she said.

Overall, the enlistment regulations are a problem, according to Stock, because they are based on the misconception that Americans who have undocumented dependents are committing a felony.

"They're not committing a felony," she said. "Some lawyer at the Pentagon gave the Navy and the Marine Corps and the Army wrong information."

The Pentagon should immediately rescind the enlistment rules, Stock said, and "go back to the way these things were before the Obama administration put these regulations in place."

"For more than 200 years, America has never had a law that barred Americans from enlisting because of the immigration status of their spouses and children," Stock noted. "That's probably unconstitutional to do that, but we've never had that law before. This is the first administration that's put this rule into place."

The enlistment regulations also highlight a "lack of coordination" at various levels of the federal government, she said. The Department of Homeland security had been working on a policy regarding undocumented immigrant family members of U.S. service members and veterans at the time the Navy and Marine Cops put their enlistment rules in place, she explained.

The Obama administration, through the Department of Homeland Security, issued that policy memo in November. Under the memo, undocumented spouses, children and parents of active-duty and retired military personnel are allowed to stay in the country without fear of deportation and possibly gain legal status in the future.

"It's a situation of the right hand, the Navy and Marine Corps people writing enlistment regulations, (not knowing) what the left hand, the Department of Homeland Security, is doing," Stock said. "If the policies had been coordinated, then there would have been absolutely no reason to have these [enlistment] regulations whatsoever."

In response to the congressmen's letter from November, the Pentagon said on December 5 that it had started a “policy review" in "coordination with all the military services" about the enlistment rules, according to a letter from Thomas Seamands, director of military personnel management for the Army. At the time, Seamands said a review on the matter would be issued in 60 days.

But last week, the Air Force, Army and Navy secretaries told the congressmen that the review is still ongoing.

Gutierrez said on Wednesday that members of Congress want a swift response. He and Coffman requested that a final report on the matter be provided to their offices within the next 30 days.

"We simply want to make clear that members of Congress in both parties think this enlistment issue is important, and we are getting impatient for a thorough response,” Gutierrez stressed. “Qualified citizens who want to serve their country should be allowed to do so. Period.”

Stay tuned.

Image: Armin Weigel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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