U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) wants to make gaining legal status for illegal immigrants easier.
His solution? Join the armed forces.
On Tuesday, Denham spoke in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security regarding his Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training, or ENLIST Act.
The bill would allow otherwise qualified undocumented immigrants brought into the United States on or before Dec. 31, 2011 at or under the age of 15, to serve in the United States’ armed forces and eventually lead them to permanent residency.
According to Denham, the bill would allow immigrants a channel to gain citizenship, as he urged the subcommittee to support the bill and its potential benefits.
“I hope this committee and the entire House will consider the ENLIST Act as one of the ways for undocumented individuals to legalize,” said Denham. “Without providing opportunities to earn a legal status, our body will not resolve our immigration crisis.”
Denham cited that currently the U.S. military does not require citizenship to join the military, and that the country's armed forces have a rich history of immigrants who have served. He stated that almost half of U.S. Army enlistees in the 1840s were immigrants and more than 660,000 military veterans became citizens through naturalization between 1862 and 2000.
“These men and women have proven that they are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their adopted country,” said Denham. “I believe that anyone who swears an oath to defend our nation and serves out an enlistment term honorably should be entitled to the privileges afforded to American citizens.”
Denham also insisted that the bill would not provide any special benefits or urge people to “rush to the border.” Instead, it would cater towards a very specific group of people who could take advantage of this act by allowing them to serve in the armed forces.
“The ENLIST Act will only affect a certain population of people who have been in the United States and are prohibited from expressing their patriotism and allegiance to the United States under current military code,” said Denham.
The congressman also insisted that the passage of the bill would help aid the “broken immigration system” and that those who do enter the country illegally should provide a service before partaking in benefits.
“...One thing we should all agree on is that the approach must require those who came here illegally to give back before they can receive any additional benefit,” said Denham.