In January, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) introduced a bill that would provide legal status to illegal immigrants if they join the military. The Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training (ENLIST) Act (H.R. 60) would allow "Dreamers" to receive lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in exchange for military service.
While promoted by some of its supporters as a solution to our military preparedness problem, the ENLIST Act is amnesty—little more than a backdoor promise of citizenship for those who came here illegally. The bill would further damage our broken immigration system by putting those in violation of the law ahead of those who want to come to our country legally. It is difficult to argue that such an arrangement advances U.S. national security objectives. Conservatives should oppose the ENLIST Act and fight any effort by Rep. Denham or others to attach the bill to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) later this year.
Below are some commonly made claims and straightforward conservative responses:
Claim: The ENLIST Act does not provide backdoor amnesty, only lawful permanent resident status.
Response: Once an illegal immigrant acquires LPR status through this bill, they are eligible to apply for citizenship on an expedited basis and become citizens within months. Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Charles Stimson explains:
"[S]ections 328 and 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allow LPRs to apply for expedited naturalization either after one year of military service or after one day of military hostilities, respectively. Thus, if the ENLIST Act were passed in its current form, illegal immigrants who signed up for military service would obtain LPR status immediately and, after one day of service during conflict, could apply for expedited citizenship. That process takes only a matter of months."
Claim: Earning legal status by serving in the military is not amnesty.
Response: The ENLIST Act turns the notion of an all-volunteer military on its head. Wade Miller, a Marine combat veteran and South Central Regional Coordinator for Heritage Action, explains it would "undermine the important social narrative that allows our all-volunteer military to thrive, namely that service is a benefit, as opposed to a punishment." Miller continues:
"It is a privilege to serve in America's all volunteer force, and that service instills some of the most valuable virtues a citizen could hope for in a Republic. Military service also builds within one the vital moral warrior ethos that every peaceful society must maintain. The United States government also spends significant amounts of money to impart enduring skills on military servicemen and women. The financial compensation for my time in the military pales in comparison to the betterment of my character that military service and combat experience gave me.
"In proposing the exchange of amnesty for military service, politicians not only create the wrong incentives for military service and potentially expose security risks, they also undermine the military's service-oriented ethos."
Claim: The ENLIST Act does nothing to incentivize more illegal immigrants to come to the United States.
Response: While the current version of the bill only applies to those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children prior to 2012, it suggests the Federal Government is not serious about enforcing its immigration laws and makes similar legislation in the future more likely to pass. Congress should fix our broken immigration system and enforce the law, not pass one-off legislation like the ENLIST Act that exacerbate the problems.
Claim: The ENLIST Act does not harm U.S. national security objectives.
Response: This bill does nothing to advance U.S. national security objectives. Instead, it undermines the military by unnecessarily dragging the controversial immigration debate into the military and the brave men and women who serve it. Based on the experience involving the temporary amnesty that President Obama instituted through executive fiat known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Stimson suggests vetting could also be problematic:
"This program, however, has not met its already modest requirements. Specifically, 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."
Claim: The ENLIST Act helps our military preparedness.
Response: It is true that the U.S. military is experiencing a more challenging recruiting environment, but the answer is not a backdoor amnesty program that itself raises national security challenges. Increasing the pool of potential applicants to illegal immigrants is a short-sighted answer to the ongoing readiness issue the military faces. Congress should instead focus its efforts on adequately funding the military to address readiness issues.
Claim: President Trump wants Congress to pass the ENLIST Act to help improve our military readiness.
Response: Legislation is unnecessary. Section 329 (8 U.S.C. 1440) gives the president the authority to provide the same citizenship to aliens who have served in the military during "armed conflict with a hostile foreign force." Thus, when we need people during times of war, the president can use this provision to attract non-citizens (legal and illegal) into the military.
Claim: The ENLIST Act is consistent with long standing military policy that rewards foreign nationals with citizenship if they serve in the military.
Response: Historically, U.S. military policy has rewarded legal immigrants with citizenship for serving in the armed forces, not illegal immigrants as clearly laid out in Sections 328 and 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The U.S. has and continues to welcome foreigners throughout the world who desire to come to our shores legally; especially those who want to serve in the military. The ENLIST Act violates generous U.S. immigration laws by putting those who violated the law ahead of those who are waiting in line to come to the country legally.