On Friday, June 15, 2012, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a Memorandum stating that DHS would shortly grant a temporary immigration status called “deferred action” to certain young people who were brought to the United States as children and “know only this country as home.” Some news articles about the new policy implied that these young people could enlist in the US Armed Forces. Enlistment in the military, however, is not currently a viable option for persons affected by the announcement–although military enlistment is allowed in the DREAM Act. Furthermore, Secretary Napolitano cannot authorize anyone to enlist in the US Armed Forces–except perhaps the Coast Guard, one of the five Armed Forces and the only Armed Force that is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Thus, the Memorandum will not help those DREAM Act beneficiaries who have sought to join the US Armed Forces.
Unauthorized immigrants are not currently allowed to enlist in the US Armed Forces voluntarily (although they may be drafted, if there is a military draft). People with work permits or “deferred action” are likewise currently ineligible for voluntary enlistment. The announcement by DHS does not change the military enlistment law found at 10 United States Code § 504. This law limits military enlistments to US citizens; US nationals; lawful permanent residents; certain lawfully present persons from Palau, Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands; and certain other persons whose enlistment has been determined by a Service Secretary to be “vital to the national interest.” No Service Secretary has to date authorized the enlistment of people who have merely been granted “deferred action.”
While it is possible that a Service Secretary might someday authorize the enlistment of a person with “deferred action” and a work permit, that has not yet happened. The DHS Memorandum did not expand the categories of non-citizens who are eligible to enlist in the US Armed Forces (which include the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard, and their associated Reserve Components, including the National Guard).
The DHS Memorandum does state that “honorably discharged veterans” who are “not above the age of 30” and who were “present in the United States” on June 15, 2012 are eligible for deferred action under the terms of the new DHS policy. Presumably, an “honorably discharged veteran” would be anyone who served honorably–including veterans who have honorable discharges, entry-level discharges characterized as honorable, or general discharges under honorable conditions. Because most honorably discharged veterans who are not above age 30 and meet the Memorandum’s other requirements are eligible for naturalization under Immigration and Nationality Act § 329, however, few will likely need deferred action through the plan announced by Secretary Napolitano. Any honorably discharged veteran who has questions about his or her eligibility for naturalization should see a competent immigration attorney for details about the military naturalization process.