WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon plan to allow a small number of young immigrants who grew up in the United States without legal status to enlist in the military has been delayed by the White House, senior officials there said Saturday, to avoid any conflict with House Republicans considering whether to move on immigration legislation.
The Pentagon proposal would create a first but very limited pathway to citizenship for those who call themselves Dreamers.
In a letter to a number of senators that was drafted Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had "taken initial action to allow for the enlistment" of the young immigrants.
But the White House asked Mr. Hagel to hold off taking any further steps on the new policy until August, after Congress' summer session, the administration officials said.
President Barack Obama said last week that he would not take any executive action on immigration during the next two months, to give Republican leaders in the House a chance to move forward on legislation that could grant legal status to illegal immigrants.
Mr. Hagel also received swift and critical responses from several senators, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate and a leading proponent of legislation to give citizenship to undocumented youths, which is known as the Dream Act. Mr. Durbin urged Mr. Hagel to allow enlistment of a much broader group of those youths.
To be eligible under the new Pentagon policy, young immigrants would have to have deportation deferrals under a program Mr. Obama started in 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Mr. Hagel said those youths would be allowed to apply to enlist under a separate Defense Department program for certain temporary immigrants who have special medical or language skills.
Legal experts and immigrant leaders said the new Pentagon policy would provide at best only a very narrow path to citizenship, with perhaps no more than a handful of youths qualifying. More than 550,000 young immigrants have received deportation deferrals.
On another front, the Obama administration has moved to drop its legal fight against what is arguably the most controversial provision of Arizona's sweeping immigration law, the so-called show-me-your-papers provision permitting police officers to pull over people based on the suspicion that they are in the country illegally.
In return, Arizona has agreed to stop fighting to restore a section of the law that gives the police the power to arrest those who harbor people living in the United States illegally.
The deal reflects the consequences of previous rulings on the law, including a 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to sustain the "show me your papers" provision and the court's refusal this April to review an appellate court's decision blocking the harboring provision.
In the 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court left the door open to further challenges to the "show me your papers" provision, and that portion of the law remains under challenge in a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups on behalf of Arizonans.