Pablo Reyes-Morales' dream to enlist in the Navy is a step closer to reality, thanks to the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act of 2013 that was introduced in Congress by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. in late January.
The bill would broaden the pool of those eligible to enlist in the U.S military to include those classified as Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by the Department of Homeland Security.
The 21-year-old Hanford resident and native of México can legally work under the new "Deferred Action" policy, which allow young immigrants who were brought to the U.S by their parents and who don't have a criminal record, are in school or have completed high school to get a Social Security number and authorization card from DHS.
"These young people want the opportunity to serve. They grew up here, went to school here and they ought to have an opportunity to serve the country they call home," Coffman said.
On Jan. 24, Reyes-Morales walked into the Navy recruiting station in Hanford and tried to enlist. He failed.
The young activist is pursuing a degree in political science and his dream is to serve the U.S armed forces and become a United State senator. He is the president of the National Pursuit of Dreams, a non-partisan, progressive organization that "focuses on ensuring a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
Even though his attempt to enlist failed, the West Hills College Lemoore student got the attention of his local congressman.
He met with Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, at the district office the day after Coffman's bill was introduced. During the meeting, Reyes-Morales had the opportunity to talk to Valadao about Coffman's bill.
Without making any promises to Reyes-Morales, Valadao agreed to read the bill.
"He is a nice kid. I got to hear his story," said Valadao.
Valadao is now one of the cosponsors of the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act.
Valadao, a first-generation American, said he is very much in support of an immigration system that would allow people to "live the American dream like my family."
Valadao's parents came from the Azores and became U.S citizens when Valadao was 18.
"Our (immigration) system is broken," Valadao said. "Hopefully we can get something done."
"We are going to push and work hard on it," Valadao said of his support for immigration reform.
"I admired his support for immigration reform," Reyes-Morales said of Valadao. "I am very glad we had the meeting."
Valadao said the bill he is cosponsoring doesn't fix the immigration problem in the long term but would provide at least a short-term solution for those who are classified as Deferred Action to join the military.
Democrat Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois and Republican Steve Stivers of Ohio are also cosponsoring the bill.
"The legislation enables us to fill a need that the military has right now," said Owen K. Loftus, Coffman's communications director. "It's important these kids have an option to defend and protect the country they love."
The Bill 435 is also supported by the DREAM Action Coalition.
"Our stories illustrate our commitment to serve the country we call home as well as to show others that we are willing to defend this great nation," said coalition executive director César Vargas.
The coalition has been working with Coffman to introduce the legislation to allow DREAMers with deferred action to enlist in the military, Vargas said.
Vargas came to the U.S. with his parents from México at the age of five. He graduated at the top of his class from the City University of New York School of Law. Since high school, his aspiration has been to be a Marine officer, either as an officer in the Judge Advocate Corps or as an intelligence officer.
In late January, the coalition launched a national effort to allow enlistment of DREAMers. Reyes-Morales is also part of that effort.
Coffman's bill will also allow immigrants who have lived in the U.S for at least two years with an immigrant visa to enlist in the military.
This bill would create a path to citizenship through the current naturalization process already in place for military service. It also includes a provision that will revoke citizenship from anyone discharged "under less than honorable conditions" or doesn't fulfill a five year military obligation.
Vargas said the coalition will continued its efforts to urge President Obama to update the Department of Defense policy.
"It is important to demonstrate to the country that there are young, educated, and qualified individuals willing to serve the country that has given them, us, so much," Vargas said.
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