MEMORANDUM FOR President Of The United States

SUBJECT: Expanded Path To Citizenship For Unauthorized Immigrants Wishing To Serve In The U.S. Military

Policy Proposal

The Federal Government should provide military-aged, undocumented immigrants who are currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy an expanded path to citizenship through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, by clarifying guidance for processing applicants with familial relations to unauthorized immigrant family members. This proposal suggests supplementing security clearance adjudicative guidelines (notably, Guideline B: Foreign Influence, and Guideline C: Foreign Preference) with language that explicitly prohibits security clearance adjudicators from using the admission, on the part of the applicant, of having unauthorized immigrant family member as the sole or automatically-disqualifying factor in denying the award of a security clearance. This proposal does not suggest that the Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) no longer require the disclosure of familial relations to unauthorized immigrants, nor that those unauthorized immigrant relations could not, in the totality of evidence, constitute a reason to deny award of a clearance. 

The promulgation of such supplemental investigative guidance would allow the SSBI to remain intact “as is” while accommodating the intent behind DACA and MAVNI; its inclusion is therefore assessed to likely increase critical human capital capabilities currently sought-out by the U.S. Armed Forces; increase the number of naturalized citizens successfully enlisted through the MAVNI program; commensurately reduce the number of undocumented migrants currently living in the United States and facing incarceration and deportation; and reduce the cost in federal tax dollars necessary for enforcing a deportation program.

Background: MAVNI

MAVNI was developed separately from DACA and specifically for legal non-citizens with either special medical skills for one or proficiency in a low-density foreign language again – for capabilities which the Department of Defense deems both prohibitively expensive to develop organically, yet highly-useful when preparing for overseas contingency operations. The program is applicable to persons who would otherwise meet the same basic requirements for all new recruits: aged 17-34 years old, in possession of a high school diploma and a qualifying score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Typically, MAVNI participants will become naturalized U.S. Citizens by the time they graduate from ten weeks of Basic Combat Training in their respective Branch of Service.  

Current Situation

On the surface, the DACA policy expands the MAVNI talent pool to include non-legal non-citizens and makes them eligible to pursue citizenship through Military Service. However, under MAVNI’s current policy (and notably, not updated to reflect the inclusion of DACA-protected children to the applicant pool), the MAVNI program’s guidelines err against applicants who do have unauthorized immigrants in their families, assuming an increased likelihood of the applicant having feelings of foreign preference, or having connections to foreign nationals, financial accounts, property, or other items of value which could be used by a foreign government to compel the applicant to act against the interests of the United States. By definition, those protected by DACA came to the United States as children with their undocumented parents. Therefore, while DACA legislation lets its protectorates begin an application under MAVNI, it is virtually impossible in execution for them to actually pass MAVNI guidelines and enlist for military service without a lengthy court battle to prove their loyalty.  

Background: The SSBI

MAVNI’s prejudicial orientation against applicants with unauthorized immigrant family members is built atop the results of screening with a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). The purpose of the SSBI, however, goes well beyond screening out MAVNI failures. The SSBI is an in-depth application on paper (usually on the order of dozens of pages) as well as in-person, in which specially-trained agents conduct interviews with not only the applicant him/herself, but with all of the applicant’s listed (and some non-listed, but interview-discovered) personnel contacts across the applicant’s work, social, familial, and residential life. The SSBI is then used as a basis for determining the applicant’s eligibility for receipt of a national security clearance.

SSBI Issues Relevant To This Proposal

The SSBI requires applicants to list those family members who are in the United States illegally. This provision incites an ethical quandary non-originating or rooted in any action or condition willfully brought into being by the applicant. Currently, very few DACA-protected immigrants would be able to pass the SSBI with a clear conscience under current policy, knowing that admission on the SSBI of having an illegal alien family member would seriously jeopardize their path to military service, but also could result in the deportation of a family member. Notably on this last point, this proposal does not intend to imply or support automatic amnesty be granted to unauthorized immigrant family members identified during the SSBI process; separate legislation and policy is required to ascertain those unauthorized immigrant’s status. Rather, it is the intent of this policy to encourage the DACA-protected applicant’s full honesty answering the SSBI while honoring the intent behind DACA and MAVNI.    

Finally, it is worth noting that if any applicant is granted a security clearance, but is found at any time thereafter to have lied on their SSBI (e.g., stating they did not have an unauthorized immigrant family member, when in fact they did), then their security clearance would most certainly be revoked. Such conditions are true of all applicants. 

Supplemental Issues For Further Consideration

The scope of the above proposal is limited by necessity to ensure clarity and singular actionability. Presented below are further issues without direct bearing on the specific above guideline proposal, but which still merit consideration given their applicability for further, future policy updates regarding DACA protectorates and the MAVNI program.

Supplemental MAVNI/Language issues

The qualifying health care specialties MAVNI seeks does speak to the targeted demographic for half of the program; the DoD is looking for legal non-citizens with specialties like Oral Surgeon, Anesthesiologist, Family Medicine, or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (to name only a few). In practice, those protected by DACA will be too young to have been certified in any of those advanced skills. Far more likely, DACA-protected children coming of military age would qualify for MAVNI’s critical language needs.

Relevant, qualifying languages recruited for by MAVNI currently include Portuguese and Cebuano; many more languages are actively recruited through the program, but they are not likely to be spoken by the DACA demographic. For example, Chinese, Urdu, and Amharic are recruited, but relatively few undocumented migrants protected by DACA are likely to be ethnic Chinese, Pakistani, or Israeli/Palestinian. While the DoD’s Emerging Languages Taskforce (headquartered at the Defense Language Institute/Foreign Language Center, in Monterey California) is responsible for identifying those languages most relevant to current contingency operations, it is worth pointing out the discrepancies between the languages MAVNI will recruit and the languages appearing on the U.S. Army Strategic Language List (i.e., languages for which the Army will pay a proficiency bonus to recruits). While most of the MAVNI-recruitable languages are also U.S. Army Strategic Language List-payable languages, the following are not:

     Kashmiri, Malayalam, Moro (Maranao), Romanian, Sindhi, and Uzbek.

These six languages are MAVNI-recruitable, yet will not be paid for in accordance with the Army Strategic Language List. This begs a question which is applicable to, but also far beyond the Army: “if the military is going to recruit for, but not pay for, those six languages, then why is the list limited to just the six?” What logic is there in NOT expanding the non-payable list to dozens of potentially useful, minority languages, all at no additional cost to the Government? For example, key to fighting narco-trafficking originating in South America are indigenous languages such as Quechua and Aymara, and Tupi Guarani. Combined, those three languages have over 16 million speakers living in prime cocoa-producing areas of Bolivia alone. Recruiting DACA-protected immigrants into the military who speak any of those languages would better posture U.S. Southern Command to conduct mil-to-mil diplomacy, enhanced joint exercises, and to engage in sustained anti-drug trafficking operations, and all at no greater cost than required to train a monolingual recruit.

More generally, the great need for language assets in the U.S. military is due to its responsibility for conducting emergency operations world-wide. As such, a world-wide deployable military must have world-wide capable language assets. Conflict can erupt overnight in the most far-flung regions of the globe; military-trained linguists cannot be created overnight, and sometimes their numbers are not pursued with the vigor you would expect while a nation wages War. According to one account, in 2011 after ten years of war in Afghanistan, there were still only 32 new Pashto language training slots per year for the entire Army. With crippling budget cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act still in effect with no relief in sight, it is unlikely that costly language assets applicable to declared theaters of active armed conflict would receive the funding they truly need any time soon. Therefore, the challenge of building a language force which encompasses the widest-range of language families possible, for the least amount of money, could be met in part by recruiting and counting among the ranks. those foreign-born applicants already versatile in their native language and eager to serve in the U.S. military.

SSBI and Language Training Costs

In recognition that skeptics will disagree with the above policy proposal not on its own merits, but due to a more general disagreement with the terms of DACA itself and with MAVNI, it is worth noting and addressing SSBI and language training costs; it makes good fiscal sense to advantage the Department of Defense by allowing DACA-protected immigrant speakers of Low-Density languages an expanded path to military service and U.S. Citizenship.

The average cost of conducting an SSBI for a Top-Secret security clearance is typically around $4,500 dollars [1], but can greatly exceed this number in special circumstances. The SSBI’s final cost reflects the necessity, at times, for the investigator to not only interview the applicant and his/her domestic contacts, but where applicable for travel to a foreign country to meet with the applicant’s foreign contacts. If for example, an applicant spent his/her junior year of college studying abroad in Italy, then the investigator must travel to Italy, to the city in which the student studied, interview their professors and fellow-students in person, and may even interview further contacts identified during the course of those in-person conversations.

This vetting process is applied equally to both domestic and foreign contacts, but ultimately denies applicants based on a wide-variety of areas which characterize the merit of their application. As a result, some bilingual, foreign-born speakers of low-density languages with foreign contacts will ultimately be approved for a clearance, while some American-born, monolinguals with no affiliation with foreign nationals will be denied based on other issues (e.g., personal conduct, history of bankruptcy, excessive debt, history of drug or alcohol abuse, felony convictions, pre-existing mental health issues, etc).  

The relatively small number of applicants under MAVNI cost the Government very little in SSBI fees when compared to how much money those same recruits end up saving the Government by testing proficient in their native languages on the Defense Language Aptitude Test and therefore by-passing residency at the Defense Language Institute/Foreign Language Center (DLI/FLC) in Monterey, CA. 

DLI/FLC estimates that it costs, on average, nearly $250,000 dollars to train one Military Linguist in a category IV language (think: Mandarin Chinese, Korean, or Russian) for the prescribed 63 weeks of instruction [2]. That figure reflects already-established programs with existing language materials, contracts, and instructor recruiting and accreditation efforts. Contrastingly, the cost of developing, accrediting, and maintaining an entirely-new curriculum and hiring an instruction staff capable of teaching a low-density language, such as Bolivia’s Quechua, would easily surpasses that quarter of a million-dollar cost per individual instructed. It would be more cost effective to conduct a $4,500 SSBI on a DACA-protected immigrant who met MAVANI’s language requirements, than it would be for the Government to train a non-native speaker to try reaching the same level of proficiency. If successful, MAVNI-produced applicants would provide stronger language capabilities and near-certain proficiency on the DoD’s gold standard for language proficiency, the Defense Language Proficiency Test. The Department of Defense stands to lose significant talent at great financial cost by maintaining the current “no unauthorized immigrant family member” provision under MAVNI.   




[1] This figure is both published and anecdotal; on three separate occasions, this author has been given a similar figure by three separate people: an investigative agent, a military Special Security Officer, and a Counter-Intelligence case worker. Further research is necessary to determine the exact range of costs associated with conducting and adjudicating the SSBI and granting a clearance. Travel to foreign countries and interviewing foreign contacts in person have, at times, anecdotally reached all the way up to  ~$75,000 per clearance in investigative costs. This article fully recognizes the need to establish firm numbers in order to bolster the central cost argument.    

[2] This number is anecdotal based on the author’s experience while serving as a student at DLI/CSS. As of this writing, the author could not find an official cost estimate per language-learning student/Soldier; in short, $250,000 is roundly cited by military leadership at the school when the topic is discussed; further research needs to establish the true cost, and to then track it over years. The point this article seeks to establish, however, is that the average cost of an SSBI pales in comparison to the cost of training a Soldier for 63 weeks; attrition rates at the school are also anecdotal. The author’s class experienced approximately a 40% class attrition rate; attrition drives up cost, and as such does similarly need further study to determine the true cost of training recruits in a foreign language.

In the DoD’s language difficulty rating scale, a IV designates languages which require the most number of hours for a native-English speaker to learn and then certify proficient on the Defense Language Proficiency Test. The training time for category IV languages is typically 63 weeks, at 5 days per week and 10 hours per day.

Author’s note: This policy proposal was originally submitted in late 2014 in partial-fulfillment of the requirements for application to the Whitehouse Fellows program. The program was advertised through and sanctioned by official U.S. Army channels for both Officers and Enlisted personnel alike to apply. The content of this policy proposal, however, reflects only the author’s view and is not intended to express or imply any official position by the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense. This policy proposal’s positions are further not intended to be generalizable to any demographic within the Department of Defense and do not represent a majority opinion among Department of Defense personnel.

Two references from 2016 have been inserted into the original document, updating the MAVNI-recruitable languages and the Army’s Strategic Language List. The overall recommendations of the proposal have not changed due to the updated references. The same conclusions reached in the original submission remain the same.