As we've explained previously, Mitt Romney's speech last week to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials ("NALEO") left open far more questions than it answered about Multiple Choice Mitt's views on immigration. But one area where Romney was fairly straightforward is in identifying military service as the only path to legal status for undocumented immigrants that he supports. In particular, Romney stated:
Now, we also have a strong tradition in this country of honoring immigrants who join our military, put their lives on the line to keep the country safe. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has naturalized almost 75,000 members of the armed forces. Too many of those patriots died on distant battlefields for our freedom before receiving full citizenship here in the country they called home. As President, I will stand for a path to legal status for anyone who is willing to stand up and defend this great nation through military service. Those who’ve risked their lives in defense of America have earned their right to make their life in America.
Winning Progressive certainly agrees that we should honor people who choose to serve our country by joining the military and that military service should be one path to legal status for DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants. But we find it beyond disingenuous for Romney to place such a high value exclusively on military service for undocumented immigrants when Romney himself never served and dodged many opportunities that he had to serve in the military.
In a recent Associated Press article, reporter Steve Peoples detailed Romney's history of seeking deferments to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. As the Peoples article explains:
"It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft," Romney told the newspaper.
But that's exactly what Romney did, according Selective Service records. He received his first deferment for "activity in study" in October 1965 while at Stanford.
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After his first year at Stanford, Romney qualified for 4-D deferment status as "a minister of religion or divinity student." It was a status he would hold from July 1966 until February 1969, a period he largely spent in France working as a Mormon missionary.
He was granted the deferment even as some young Mormon men elsewhere were denied that same status, which became increasingly controversial in the late 1960s. The Mormon church, a strong supporter of American involvement in Vietnam, ultimately limited the number of church missionaries allowed to defer their military service using the religious exemption.
But as fighting in Vietnam raged, Romney spent two and a half years trying to win Mormon converts in France.
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His 31-month religious deferment expired in early 1969. And Romney received an academic studies deferment for much of the next two years. He became available for military service at the end of 1970 when his deferments ran out and he could have been drafted. But by that time, America was beginning to slice its troop levels, and Romney's relatively high lottery number — 300 out of 365 — was not called.
Romney's dodging of military service, combined with his proposal to make military service the only path to legal status for undocumented immigrants living in the US, raises a number questions for this installment of Winning Progressive's Questions for Mitt Romney:
* If military service is important enough to provide undocumented immigrants with the only path to legal status, why did you, Mr. Romney, choose to avoid serving our country in Vietnam?
* In 2007, you told the Boston Globe "I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there, and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam." How can you claim to have longed to be in Vietnam when you actively sought four deferments from the draft? Why did you not simply sign up to serve?
* Why in 1966, when you were receiving an educational draft deferment in order to attend Stanford, did you protest in favor of the Vietnam War and against anti-war and anti-draft students? Isn't it a bit hypocritical to be protesting in favor of a war and draft that you were willfully avoiding?
* None of your five sons have served in the military, even though all of them were of military age during either the first or second Iraq wars and the war in Afghanistan. When asked about your sons' lack of military service, you noted that: “It’s remarkable how we can show our support for our nation, and one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president. My son, Josh, bought the family Winnebago and has visited 99 counties, most of them with his three kids and his wife. And I respect that and respect all of those in the way they serve this great country.” Could undocumented immigrants similarly show their support for our nation and, therefore, earn a path to legal status by also helping to get you elected? If not, why not?
Many politicians from both sides of the aisle avoided the Vietnam War or have otherwise declined to serve in the military. But few have done so while at the same time as actively cheerleading for military conflict as Mitt Romney has done from Vietnam in the 1960s to the Middle East now, and while pushing for military service to be the only path by which millions of undocumented immigrants could legally stay in the US. Such a record suggests that Romney is less interested in providing undocumented immigrants with a path to legal status and more interested in finding more bodies to deal with the international conflicts Romney seems eager to trigger.
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