Using the Military for Amnesty

Background. In response to the surge of activist protest in the wake of the Senate-passed “Gang of 8” amnesty package, many members of Congress have come to understand that immigration reform should not be enacted given the current administration’s lawlessness. Nonetheless, since the last round of “piecemeal” amnesty proposals were thwarted in the House earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition has been angling to keep amnesty possibilities alive. Two new pieces of legislation have recently entered the debate: Representative Mike Coffman’s (R-CO) Military Enlistment Opportunity Act (H.R. 435) and Representative Jeff Denham’s (R-CA) Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training, or “ENLIST,” Act (H.R. 2377). These bills would allow DREAMers—unlawful immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors—to acquire lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in exchange for military service.

Circumvents Federal Law. Under current law, immigrants who have been granted LPR status through acceptable, verified means of legal entry are eligible for military service. If they meet qualifications for enlistment and become active, they are then eligible for expedited citizenship. Consequently, under these bills, illegal immigrants who are made eligible for enlistment would receive not only immediate LPR status (i.e. amnesty), but could also apply for expedited consideration and become citizens within months. Essentially, by allowing illegal immigrants to sign up for the armed forces, the government is granting them, a) pardon for violating the law, b) the full battery ofmilitary benefits, c) lawful permanent resident status in the U.S., and d) a back-door promise of instant citizenship.

Wrong Incentives. Historically, the government’s validating illegal behavior has only served to promote it. The U.S. granted amnesty in 1986 to fewer than 3 million illegal immigrants; it now faces a pool of more than 11 million. If enacted, H.R. 2377 would provide a roadmap to citizenship for children of every foreign nation, the express gateway of which is illegal entry. This policy will encourage families to send young kids into the U.S. by any means necessary, no matter how costly or perilous the route, certain in the knowledge thatmilitary service will be waiting as a ticket to legalization. According to the recent testimony of Gil Kerlikowske, head of Customs and Border Protection, the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has increased from 6,000 in FY 2011 to 60,000 in FY 2014. The incentive is so strong, he explained, that some parents are even “willing to support vile criminal networks” that can aid in the crossing and “place their precious children in harm’s way.”

Security Risk. Beyond the anticipated influx, there is the question of the specific immigrants this policy would attract. Since these militaryapplicants will have gained entry unlawfully, the government will not have access to the copious records with which it usually evaluates candidates for service. There is limited background on some of these individuals. In an attempt to remedy this, H.R. 435 requires that the unlawful applicant possess a waiver from DHS’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Instituted by President Obama, this process of granting temporary amnesty to unlawful youths has not adhered to its already minimal requirements. According to Heritage Policy Analysts David Inserra and Charles Stimson:

DACA recipients are supposed to pass a background check, but after just a couple of months, DHS began conducting “lean and lite” background checks, urging employees to accept all DACA recipients, explicitly waiving rules regarding proof of identity, and even stopping background checks altogether.

This lack of a coherent investigation mechanism exposes the process to fraud and abuse. Moreover, even if applicants could be deemed nonthreatening and fit for combat, it is impossible to verify that he or she has not simply enlisted for expedited citizenship, and without a true belief in the mission of the armed forces.

Chain. Once legalized, there is no reason these DREAMers could not then sponsor family members abroad, resulting in a “chain migration” that could dramatically increase amnesty recipients. As Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector explains:

Once unlawful immigrant households were legalized, there would be an increased tendency for brothers, sisters, and cousins to migrate from abroad both lawfully and unlawfully to join their relatives. Thus, other things being equal, amnesty would likely increase future unlawful immigration, in turn increasing future fiscal costs.

Political Ruse. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the military has met or exceeded its recruiting goals for at least the past two fiscal years. These bills would neither fill a gap in our homeland security nor come to the rescue of a military in need of reinforcements. Their purpose is not national strength, but to certify DREAMers and pave the way for more amnesty-centric reforms later in the year. Conservatives recognize a variety of defects in our current immigration system and believe improvement must begin with enforcing the legal parameters already in place. President Obama has expressed no willingness to accommodate the conservative perspective, and the congressional landscape has revealed that any attempt to introduce new reform will result in keeping the amnestydiscussion alive.

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