When William Medeiros learned he could join the United States military, he was elated. As an undocumented immigrant — his parents brought him to the United States when he was 6 years old — Medeiros had few options. “I couldn’t work, and to go to school I would have had to pay out-of-state tuition, which was three or four times the normal in-state rate,” says Medeiros, 25. “My status really started to become a problem. It was overwhelming, and it really started to take a toll on me.”
Then, in 2012, President Barack Obama signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides temporary protected status to qualifying undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. By receiving DACA, Medeiros became eligible to apply for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), a recruiting program that allows noncitizens with legal status to enlist if they possess critical language or healthcare skills deemed in short supply among U.S. citizens.
We are contributing to our communities. I think taking away DACA is inhumane.
“The military is just something that I think everybody takes for granted, until it’s needed,” he says. “Military service and law enforcement are great professions where you get to help people. That’s one of my goals.”
To enlist, Medeiros took the four-hour ASVAB test. “You have to get a minimum of 50 to pass, and I got around an 80,” he says. He underwent medical and fitness screenings at the Military Insurance Processing Station in Tampa. And he was subjected to an extensive background screening. After passing a Portuguese-language exam, he was sworn in and received an enlistment contract.
Montesdeoca is one of some 900 DACA recipients who enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces through MAVNI and one of an estimated 169,000 DACA-eligible individuals ages 18 and older who speak one of the more than three dozen languages the U.S. military needs in today’s recruits. Almost 28,000 Dreamers speak Korean at home, and more than 9,000 speak Russian, both of which are identified as posing recruitment challenges. In addition, a substantial portion of the Dreamer population speaks one or more languages relevant to the country’s ongoing military engagements: Almost 12,000 DACA-eligible immigrants speak Arabic, Urdu, Pashto, or Farsi at home.
The United States may not be able to take advantage of Medeiros’ and other Dreamers’ skills, however. MAVNI was suspended in 2016, and bureaucratic delays are tying up security clearances for many who already enlisted through the program, including Medeiros. Adding to the anxiety, President Donald Trump said in 2017 that he would phase out DACA unless Congress takes action, meaning Medeiros and others could be deported. At the very least, he says, he would lose his job managing a pediatric health clinic in Orlando and would never be able to deploy.
“Now there are more complications with the new White House administration,” Medeiros says. “And because of this, now everybody is just waiting. Not just me, but 900 other DACAs who have enlisted. We’re stuck in limbo. Many people have lost status because of this, because they have been waiting for so long.”
“With DACA, Obama gave us something to look up to,” Medeiros says. “He gave us the ability to work, the ability to go to school like any other American. We are contributing to our communities. I think taking away DACA is inhumane.”