“The president is launching a new effort to recruit illegal immigrants and visa overstays for the military at a time when thousands of career military personnel are facing layoffs – meaning the president’s recruitment program will directly displace American military personnel.” Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama
By Andrew Thomas l October 13, 2014
Obama’s efforts to accommodate illegal immigrants have invited a torrent of illegal-immigrant youth to stream north to the U.S. border. A much quieter revolution has taken place inside the Pentagon. The president and his administration now will begin placing teenage illegal immigrants in America’s military and under arms.
On September 25, 2014, the Pentagon announced a bold expansion of current policies to create new opportunities for young illegal immigrants to enlist in the U.S. military. This policy change also will allow the young soldiers to receive preferential treatment in obtaining citizenship. A new Department of Defense initiative will broaden an existing program that allows military recruiters to seek foreign nationals with narrow skills, mostly those with foreign-language expertise or certain health-care training. Until now, these enlistees were legal noncitizen residents. The Obama administration now has altered the program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), to absorb so-called Dreamers. These are illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. with their parents before age 16, and who were afforded de facto amnesty by the Obama administration under its policy known as Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA).
MAVNI soldiers receive educational aid in addition to pay and benefits and expedited citizenship. For now, at least, the program has a cap of 1,500 recruits per year.
The Department of Homeland Security grants DACA status, which protects illegal immigrants from deportation. Since Obama announced DACA in 2012, more than 580,000 illegal immigrants have availed themselves of the program. Hundreds of thousands more have swarmed north from Latin America to the U.S. border, and many have made it across. DACA immigrants, already given deportation deferrals, now will be given an opportunity, assuming they offer the skills being sought, to enlist in the military and receive what the New York Times called a “fast-track pathway to citizenship.”
Also on September 25, the Pentagon notified Congress that the MAVNI program, which was due to expire at the end of the fiscal year, would be extended for another two years. That MAVNI would now include DACA illegal immigrants was rolled into the same announcement.
Some Pentagon officials considered implementing this program for DACA immigrants in the spring. In late May, it was even reported by some media outlets that Pentagon officials had approved a policy to allow DACA enlistees into the MAVNI program. But Obama administration officials quietly asked them to stand down, as immigration legislation was winding its way through the Capitol and they did not want to risk alienating Republicans opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants. With the demise of that legislation, such restraint has been abandoned. Obama has indicated he plans to move forward with executive actions to halt deportations of classes of illegal immigrants. The MAVNI move presumably is one of these.
MAVNI, which began in 2008 as a pilot program and continues as such, is supposed to have a narrow focus. Recruits are to possess skills in foreign languages other than Spanish. These include Arabic, Hindi, and Russian. Licensed doctors and dentists with certain special skills also are accepted. But there is nothing to prevent future presidents or the current one from expanding the scope of the program in the future. Those who enter the military through MAVNI can apply for citizenship within months after enlisting. Since 2001, more than 92,000 foreign service members have become citizens while enlisted in the military.
To date, the Army has been the only one of the four military branches to accept a significant number of recruits under MAVNI. The Navy and Marine Corps have not sought out any MAVNI recruits. The Army has done this even as it is effectively terminating active-duty soldiers because of budget reductions. To comply with mandated cuts, the Pentagon is laying off large numbers of current service members. Already, the Army has removed thousands from the active-duty ranks. The goal is to reduce the total number of soldiers on active duty from approximately 520,000 soldiers to closer to 440,000.
In June, 1,100 Army captains were informed their military careers would end as part of this reduction in force. Of these, 87 were serving around the globe. Forty-eight were deployed to Afghanistan.
In effect, the military is swapping Army veterans who are already trained, including combat veterans, to generate open slots for young illegal immigrants who are not citizens and whose allegiance, as such, is not confirmed. As a result, it was not a surprise that critics of Obama’s immigration policies reacted negatively to the news.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama accused Obama of favoring illegal immigrants over U.S. citizens. Sessions noted, “The president is launching a new effort to recruit illegal immigrants and visa overstays for the military at a time when thousands of career military personnel are facing layoffs—meaning the president’s recruitment program will directly displace American military personnel.” Sessions made a cutting reference to a stock defense offered by those who advocate conferring citizenship on illegal immigrants—namely, only illegal immigrants will do certain types of menial labor. He said, “Military service is a high calling and a noble career, and is most certainly not a job Americans won’t do.”
A leading congressional critic of Obama’s immigration policies, Sessions placed the MAVNI expansion in the context of Obama’s continuing efforts to water down federal immigration laws and enforcement practices. More such executive actions are likely to follow the November midterm elections, the senator predicted. “In our economy, like our military, we have a shortage of jobs—not a shortage of workers,” he noted.
Is the MAVNI initiative another step towards Obama’s vision of creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants? This remained unclear. He has stated his intention of circumventing Congress in this regard, as Republican congressional leaders have flirted with amnesty but proved unable to muster the votes from the GOP caucus. Tellingly, the administration announced the MAVNI policy change the same day U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation. Holder arguably had done more than any other official to implement Obama’s creeping amnesty-by-executive-order, using “prosecutorial discretion” as a device for not initiating deportation proceedings against large swaths of the illegal-immigrant population.
Andrew Thomas is a graduate of the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School. Twice elected as Maricopa County Attorney, the district attorney for greater Phoenix, Arizona, Thomas served a county of four million residents and ran one of the largest prosecutor’s offices in the nation. He established a national reputation for fighting violent crime, identity theft, drug abuse and illegal immigration. He is the author of four books, including Clarence Thomas: A Biography and the The People v. Harvard Law: How America’s Oldest Law School Turned Its Back on Free Speech. Mr. Thomas is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.