The ENLIST Act Threatens National Security

The ENLIST Act Threatens National Security
U.S. Air Force photo TSgt Manuel J. Martinez
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Nearly 200 members of Congress support the ENLIST Act, a bill that would enable illegal immigrants to gain legal status by joining the military.

This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), already died in the House in 2014  and 2015 – for good reason. Allowing illegal immigrants to enlist wouldn't improve military readiness, but it would politicize and endanger national security.

The ENLIST Act's proponents claim the bill would bolster military readiness by letting recruiters tap a previously off-limits source of potential soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen.

However, recruiters already have more than enough qualified applicants. The military accepted just 20 percent of applicants in 2014.  One Navy officer gushed that "the quality of military recruits right now is the highest it's been in 40 years."

In other words, the military can afford to be choosy. Just this year, the Army introduced rigorous new fitness tests to weed out marginal recruits who would struggle to meet the tough, physical demands of the job.

The ENLIST Act would not improve military readiness. In fact, it would lower morale by attracting recruits who may not truly want to serve. How many illegal immigrants would enlist because they see it as a bulwark against possible deportation, not because they are passionate about defending America?

Military brass does not want troops who only serve to avoid legal punishments. After morale plummeted and discipline problems arose during the Vietnam War era, the military suspended the draft and made a conscious switch to an all-volunteer force.

The U.S. military proudly rejects other countries' reliance on service members who are coerced into the ranks or see the military as a last resort. America does not have the equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, which attracts people fleeing their former lives who hope to gain French citizenship in exchange for service.

The ENLIST Act would upend the military's high standards by admitting foreigners whose aren’t even legal residents of the United States. That is why nine generals and seven admirals denounced the bill in 2014.  The American Legion also opposed the bill, saying that defense should "stand alone," unsaddled by the burden of "contentious and complex" immigration policies.

The ENLIST Act is an amnesty bill masquerading as a military-readiness bill. Without such a guise, amnesty would lack the political support to pass Congress. Americans want to enforce current immigration law and enact a more merit-based admissions system before addressing what to do with people here illegally.  Shouldn’t those also be Congress’ priorities?

Worse, the ENLIST Act is a proactive, blanket amnesty, rather than a targeted reprieve from deportation for green card holders who honorably serve in the military but then run afoul of the law.

There's a reasonable case to be made for leniency for legal immigrants who voluntarily joined the military and served honorably. However, there is no reason to defy the advice of top military leaders and grant amnesty to thousands of illegal immigrants who have not yet served. In fact, several co-sponsors have since rescinded their support for the bill, after they realized the bill would provide proactive amnesty to illegal immigrant civilians.

The ENLIST Act is a stealth amnesty bill that harms, rather than improves, military readiness. 


Robin Boggs is a member of the American Legion and a veteran of six combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti as an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Marine Corps.

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