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The Push for Military Amnesty

John Fonte

On May 12 the Army Times reported that over the next 17 months, 30, 000 American soldiers will be let go — that is to say, fired. With budget cuts, the military is being reduced with an “ongoing drawdown” that involves “involuntary separations” of thousands of Americans from our armed forces. Consequently, military recruiters are accepting only a small number of the most qualified young Americans for service. The Kansas City Star noted that American high-school graduates “will face more difficulty qualifying for the armed services than ever in the 40-year history of the all-volunteer force.”

Incredibly, as Americans are forced out of the military and recruitment becomes limited, the Obama administration plans to enroll illegal immigrants without congressional approval. Using the “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest” program, Obama would act unilaterally to determine personnel decisions “vital to the national interest.”

On June 1, the New York Times reported that White House domestic-policy adviser Cecilia Muñoz (formerly a La Raza official) stated that the administration was postponing military amnesty for illegal immigrants for two months. But Obama is threatening to take unilateral action — as he has done with increasing frequency since his reelection — if Congress fails to act on immigration reform by August. “We will reassess once we see what Congress does or does not do,” Muñoz told the Times.

For the past year, Representative Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) has been promoting the Enlist Act, which would grant legalization and eventual citizenship to young illegal immigrants who join the military. Meanwhile Senator Richard Durban (D., Ill.), a Gang of Eight co-author of the Senate amnesty bill, has proposed legislation allowing illegal immigrants to serve in the military as a path to citizenship. Senator Durban is infamous for his 2005 comparison of American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings.”

On both procedural and substantive grounds, patriotic forces have opposed misusing the American military as an instrument of amnesty. For example, the American Legion vigorously objected to Representative Denham’s attempt to attach his Enlist Act to the National Defense Authorization Act. A Legion spokesman declared that, as a matter of process, defense should “stand alone” and not be burdened with “contentious and complex” immigration issues. But the Legion also made it clear that it opposed the Denham amnesty plan on its merits: “We are opposed to any policy, any legislative action that amounts to amnesty.”

Sixteen retired flag officers (nine generals and seven admirals) sent Representative Buck McKeon (R., Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a strongly worded letter denouncing any attempt to create a military-sanctioned amnesty and also rejecting the Senate Schumer-Rubio bill itself, which the generals and admirals noted “would confer amnesty on millions of aliens illegally in this country and, by failing to secure the borders, ensure that millions more will be headed here in due course.”

Heritage Action has also been at the forefront of opposition. A Heritage Action official and Marine combat veteran, Wade Miller, declared that giving amnesty to illegal immigrants who join the armed forces is “appalling.” He argues that this is because amnesty “undermines an important social narrative” and “turns military service into a penance” instead of what it should be, a “privilege” for American citizens, “who are committed to ensuring the posterity of liberty.”

Heritage’s vice president for foreign and defense policy, James Jay Carafano (a former Army officer himself), declared, “The Enlist Act is unnecessary for national security, makes a mockery of U.S. immigration law, and is a slap in the face to those who want to come here and play by the rules.”

Unfortunately, on the merits of the issue, the House Republican leadership is closer to the position of the Obama administration than that of the American Legion. To be sure, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor have kept Denham’s proposal and another military-amnesty effort by Representative Mike Coffman (R., Colo.) out of the National Defense Authorization Act. However, both Boehner and Cantor are discussing the possibility of a stand-alone vote on amnesty for illegal immigrants who join the military.

Politico interviewed Cantor and noted that the majority leader “stressed his support for a legalization measure” for young illegal immigrants and that he “backs the policy merits” of the Denham legislation. Further, Politico reported that Cantor “did not rule out a potential stand-alone vote on the Enlist Act later this year,” but “no decisions have been made.”

So what will Eric Cantor do after his June 10 primary against an amnesty opponent, economics professor David Brat? Will he collaborate with Obama and consider military amnesty as “vital to the national interest”? Or will he listen to the voices of the American Legion, retired generals and admirals, and Stephen Miller, spokesman for Alabama Republican senator Jeff Sessions, who declared: “It is unthinkable that this amnesty measure would be pushed at a time when 30,000 soldiers are facing layoffs.”

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