While some have criticized Congressman Jeff Denham for not hosting a town hall forum, he did make himself available in the digital realm Tuesday as he invited Colorado’s 2nd District Representative Jared Polis and Oscar Juarez-Luna, a DREAMer from Colorado, to join him in a Facebook Live chat to address the necessity of the ENLIST Act.
Originally introduced in 2013, Denham recently reintroduced H.R. 60, the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act (ENLIST Act), to give qualified young undocumented immigrants the chance to earn citizenship in the United States through enlistment in the military. The bill applies only to undocumented immigrants who were under the age of 15 when they were brought to the United States by their parents before 2012.
“This would allow them to show their ultimate act of patriotism and ultimately be able to serve in the U.S. military,” said Denham during the live chat. “It would be the quickest pathway to citizenship.”
Denham and Polis, a Democrat and co-author of the bill, were joined for the live chat by Juarez-Luna, who is an undocumented immigrant allowed to live and work legally in the country through the Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Though Juarez-Luna has been able to thrive in the United States thanks to the DACA Program, his true dream of joining the military after high school was never realized, as his undocumented status prevented him from enlisting.
“Bills like this are definitely good to have and growing up I wish I would have had that opportunity,” said Juarez-Luna. “If this bill passes, it would be really beneficial for DREAMers like myself that want to serve the country.”
Juarez-Luna always knew that he wanted to join the army and took all of the necessary prerequisites for his dream job during high school, joining different programs on campus to ensure he was prepared and even serving as team captain for his school’s soccer team. After taking the necessary testing required to move forward with enlisting and receiving incredible scores, he found out he would be unable to serve in the military because of his immigration status.
“I saw my friends leave…seeing them go to the marines and the army and be on their second term…that could have been me,” said Juarez-Luna. “I could have been that person if I had the privilege to have citizenship here in the United States.”
Though he is currently attending college, Juarez-Luna hopes to see the ENLIST Act passed so that others who have the same dreams he once did can achieve them.
“Oscar is someone who is able to work legally…yet he wasn’t able to put his life on the line to defend our country even though on the merits, he did well on the test,” said Polis. “He’s exactly the type of person recruiters are trying to get to join the military… we want the most capable and brightest in the military.”
The ENLIST Act does not guarantee children of undocumented immigrants would be accepted into the military. Instead, it keeps enlistment at the sole discretion of the respective military branches, meaning they must fit all other requirements. Military forces would continue to accept only the very best of their applicants under this bill – regardless of their heritage. Immigrants who apply for the military would still need to meet enlistment requirements, which include speaking English, passing a background check and having a high school diploma.
There is bipartisan support for the ENLIST Act, and both Denham and Polis are optimistic about the bill’s chance of passing.
“This gives somebody like Oscar the ability to pursue a dream, give back to the only country he knows, defend our freedoms and will allow him after leaving the military to be a full American citizen,” said Polis. “It seems like this is the type of bill that could go to the floor and pass with 80 percent of the House. Who would be against this kind of thing?”
“It’s hard to imagine, but I’m glad we’re continuing to get bipartisan support on this…” said Denham.
During his 16 years in the Air Force and while serving in Operations Desert Storm and Restore Hope, Denham served alongside immigrants who were wholly dedicated to the country and to its best interests. Between the years 1862 and 2000, more than 660,000 military veterans have become citizens through naturalization.
For a full text of the ENLIST Act, visit https://denham.house.gov/sites/denham.house.gov/files/01-03-2017%20ENLIST%20Act.pdf.