Getty Images

Veterans expressed their disappointment that House Republicans voted to block legislation that could have helped pave the way for allowing young undocumented immigrants to serve in the armed forces.

"It's a huge disservice to our military because we have such a rich history of immigrants serving," said Luis Cardenas Camacho, 29, a Marine veteran.

Advertisement

The amendment, which was included and later cut from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would have asked that the Secretary of Defense consider allowing recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), known as DREAMers, be allowed to enlist in the military.

Camacho was born in Mexicali, Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a young boy. He grew up in Yuma, Arizona where, he said, you could walk across the border to Mexico. After 9/11 he decided to join the Marines.

"It's a very personal issue for me, I served with a lot friends who came home draped in American flags even though they were born in other countries," he said.

Luis Cardenas Camacho attends President Obama's speech on immigration executive action at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As a legal resident, who served in the Marines, he was able to expedite the naturalization process and become a citizen. When he left the Marine Corps in 2008, he struggled with civilian life and joined various veteran groups. Today he advocates locally and nationally for other immigrants that want to join the military.

Advertisement

Camacho argued that allowing DREAMers to enlist would expand the long tradition of immigrants serving in the military.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former Marine himself, introduced the provision to NDAA in hopes that DREAMers will eventually be allowed to serve alongside their U.S.-born counterparts.

"It's a great opportunity to get some great patriotic people to serve their country," he said.

But Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) successfully introduced an amendment that stripped Gallego's language from the bill.

"It makes no sense to me that, at the same time the Army is downsizing and issuing pink slips to American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, there are Congressmen who seek to help illegal aliens deprive American citizens and lawful immigrants of military service opportunities," said Brooks in a statement.

Gallego accused some in the GOP wing of carrying out an "anti-immigrant, anti-Latino" agenda.

Gallego said he would encourage DREAMers that want to join the military to "keep hope." He plans to reintroduce the amendment if NDAA is sent back to the House, and otherwise, he will try again next year.

Advertisement

"It sad that's something as bi-partisan as veterans, and what I think should be an absolute no-brainer, gets shot down because of partisanship," said Corey Harris, 39, a former Army Officer, who works with homeless veterans in Arizona.

Eighty-one recipients of DACA, have already applied for enlistment into the Army, through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, but none have completed the required qualification process, according to the Department of Defense.

While volunteering at a U.S. Senate office in Colorado, Donald Martinez, 36, a retired Army officer and native of Colorado Springs, came in contact with, a veteran who had done three tours in Iraq, but was unable to get a job due to his immigration status.

Donald Martinez in 2004.

Martinez said that ever since that encounter he has been motivated to help immigrants that have served and want to serve in the military, including advocating for the DREAMer amendment.

"Being blocked like this is ridiculous," he said.

Jesus Magaña, U.S. Air Force Veteran from Arizona, speaks at a panel discussion on the impact of immigrants on force readiness. Brett Hunt, founder of Vets4Reform is third from the left.

Former Army officer Brett Hunt founded Vets4Reform, a network of veterans who are pushing for immigration reform.

Advertisement

Hunt, who was born in the United States and has Italian immigrant grandparents, said he was struck by the sacrifice of non-citizens to serve a country other than their own.

"I've served alongside immigrants who were born in Honduras, Vietnam, Mexico, all around the world, but chose to serve their adopted nation," he said.

Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.