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Fact check: In spite of military reference in Obama's deferred action memo, no, undocumented immigrants can't serve

WNYC has a good fact-check piece on President Obama's recent announcement of temporary legal status for some young undocumented immigrants. In his speech last month announcing who might qualify for deferred action, Obama mentioned those who had already contributed to the United States by "serving in our military, protecting us and our freedoms."

It sounds good, but the fact is that under current law, undocumented immigrants can't enlist. I've written about this before. While pending legislation like the DREAM Act and ARMS Act proposes allowing undocumented youths to enlist in exchange for legal status, so far they can't.

WNYC interviewed a Homeland Security official who said that military veterans were mentioned in the memo announcing Obama's deferred action plan "to ensure that individuals why may have fallen out of legal status during their military service" would not be excluded. Veterans who are legal permanent residents and later lose their status might also possibly benefit. From the piece:

In order to enlist, a person needs to be a citizen of the United States or a green card holder, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense. The military rigorously checks immigration and naturalization documents, she added, and if it discovers "that an enlistee has presented false documents, he/she is discharged for fraudulent enlistment."

Additionally, non-citizens who served in the military after the September 11 attacks are eligible to naturalize and would not need to take advantage of the deferred action option.

The president"s appearance followed the Department of Homeland Security"s June 15 memo on deferred action, which outlined requirements under which undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children would be able to avoid deportation and get access to two-year work permits. It included the category of "honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States."

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