Twins dream of serving in U.S. military despite DACA status

Posted at 3:29 PM, Feb 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-13 15:29:17-05

(CNN) – The Senate began its debate on national immigration reform Monday evening. There’s no clear plan or idea of what will happen to 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.

Around 1.8 million of them were brought to the country illegally as children, making them potentially eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – program.

Two “Dreamers” – who asked to be identified only by their first names, “John” and “James” – just want to give back to the country they’ve called home for half their lives.

"They say the two greatest days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why," John said. "So, for us, this is our ‘why.’ The United States has been our why for a long time.”

The identical twins said they want nothing more than to serve in the military.

"Just give us a chance to prove that we're Americans," James said.

The two are currently under contract with the U.S. Army, but as Dreamers brought to the U.S. illegally from the Philippines at age 10, the decision Congress soon makes on DACA could determine whether they are deployed or deported.

"You're watching the TV, if they're going to pass a permanent legislation for DACA, or if you're waiting for that phone call to ship out, so you don't really know,” James said. “Am I going to ship out or am I going to get sent back to a country that I hardly know?"

John and James were able to join the military’s now-defunct MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) program in 2016, which was a pilot program set up to allow skilled, undocumented immigrants to enlist.

"You have to be here residing in the United States for two years,” John said. “Well, we've been here for half our lives. And you have to speak a strategic language, and it turns out Tagalog was one of them heavily needed. Fluent Tagalog, understand it, write it, everything."

James said the MAVNI program was a chance for the brothers to give back to the nation.

“We want to show you guys that protecting this country and potentially dying for it maybe is not a problem, because we love this country," James said.

Foreign-born troops can become naturalized citizens only after they complete basic training and extensive background checks. The entire process can take years.

John and James might not have that much time. Their DACA status expires in October, and their race against time is continually detoured by changing requirements and delays.

"We were scheduled to leave on October 2016, and then we got delayed,” John said. “So, come March 2017, they pushed it back again to October 2017. And so then it's just kind of, ‘Oh man.’"

John is due to ship out to basic training on March 5. That’s the same day President Donald Trump has given as a deadline for Congress to come up with a solution on DACA.

James has not yet received his call.

"It's kind of disheartening because, like, we're practically the same person, you know, and for one twin to ship out – one to, like, wait in limbo – you can't help but anxiety and paranoia to…creep in," James said.

Just a few days ago, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis tried to ease that anxiety, telling reporters that service members like John and James are in no danger of being deported, adding: “We would always stand by one of our people.”

CNN reached out to the Pentagon to see what concrete steps are being taken to keep that promise. The Pentagon said Secretary Mattis had been in contact with his counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security, and that service members are not in jeopardy.

"I really do hope that they find a solution for people like me and, you know, it's because they can utilize us,” James said. “We raised our right hands and swore oath, and we knew what were the consequences. So, that's no problem with us. The only thing that, you know, I would want to ask people of authority, people of authority and the American people, is a chance to prove that we're Americans."

President Trump has vowed to end the DACA program. He’s proposed giving the 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship in exchange for a host of immigration reforms, including $25 billion for his long-promised border wall.

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