The National Defense Authorization Act Is Drawn into the Immigration Battleground

By Dan Cadman on May 11, 2015

FBI Director James Comey has been quoted in the past few days by just about every media outlet of any size as saying there are ISIS supporters in every state of the country.

One supposes this is intended to inoculate the public in advance of the chance of a terrorist attack successfully taking place, unlike the recent failed attack in Garland, Texas — a smart political move, if not necessarily the most comforting given all of the administration's rhetoric about how safe we are both at our borders and in the interior, and oh by the way, let's just let millions of illegal aliens about whom we know very little stay here permanently.

At the same time, defense installations throughout the United States have been ordered to raise their terrorism alert level because social media monitoring shows that ISIS is encouraging its followers and supporters to focus attacks on police and soldiers. Even military families have been warned to beware that they might be targeted.

You would think with all this going on that our legislators and political leaders would also be considering carefully whether such threats might emanate from within the military; that there might be individuals who already have the right of access to military posts who could wreak havoc. After all, there is not just the case of Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan to consider; other former and reservist military members have also been charged with terrorism.

Apparently not so. Surprisingly, Arizona's Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego introduced into the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would express the "sense of the House" that the defense secretary should consider authorizing recipients of the administration's "executive action" immigration program to enlist in the military. Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas took a different tack to achieve the same goal. Instead, he embedded language in the text directing the secretary of defense to study permitting such enlistments in the language of the report that preceded the budget measure.

More surprisingly, the Republican-controlled committee voted for these measures, 33-30, over the objections of the committee chairman. Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who voted against the Gallego amendment, has taken a lead in attempting to see it removed as inappropriate. Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona has done the same in fighting the Veasey amendment. They are to be lauded for their principled stance.

Here's the thing: Neither Rep. Gallego's or Rep. Veasey's measures to permit illegals to join the military are either needed or wanted. The all-volunteer military has done very well at meeting recruiting goals since abandoning conscription; in fact, many branches of the armed forces are more choosy than ever about whom they will accept because they have plenty of potential recruits to select from.

It is doubtful whether more than just a handful of the so-called "dreamers" who have benefited from the president's program (which is being contested in the federal courts as both illegal and unconstitutional) would be interested in such a career, so even if the military were not meeting recruiting targets, this amendment wouldn't do much substantively to push things farther along.

There's also the question of whether those interested in enlisting would be accepted, because of a lack of education or, more often than one might think, adverse police history.

Then there's the fact that military officials won't be able to look carefully into the backgrounds or bona fides of these "lawfully present" illegals unless they are willing to spend inordinate amounts of time and money doing so — and that doesn't make sense when the military can meet recruiting goals without that onerous task. Admittedly, the chance that they may be terrorists is slim, but a disturbing number of individuals have skated through the Department of Homeland Security vetting system and gotten this "lawful" status despite serious criminal backgrounds, as DHS Secretary Johnson has himself admitted. (See, for instance, here, here, and here.)

Retired Lt. Gen. Harry E. Soyster, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (and a member of the Board at the Center for Immigration Studies), has this to say about the amendment: "The standards to enter today's military are rigorous and should not be subject to compromise. With the many threats posed around the world that our armed forces are obliged to meet to keep Americans safe, enlistment programs are not the place to try to enact social policies or achieve political goals. It also is not fair to our serving soldiers and veterans who have met the standards and exceeded our expectations in repeated deployments in defense of their country."

Yet, with all of this, Reps. Gallego and Veasey want the secretary of defense to permit illegals who are temporarily "lawfully present" (at least, unless and until, a federal court calls the president's program unlawful) to join the military. Why?

Because the measure is not just symbolic — the wily Democratic representatives know full well that if the full House signs onto these directives as a part of the NDAA, it is the equivalent of repudiating its own assertion that Obama's executive actions are an unconstitutional abridgment of their own legislative authorities.

What would this do to undercut the ongoing federal suit? Hopefully nothing, other than to suggest that there might be an unconscionable percentage of Republican representatives who talk out of both sides of their mouths — because the federal courts should make the decision on the basis of law and constitution, not political maneuvering. Still, let us hope that the measure is stricken when the NDAA comes before the full House for a vote.

Meanwhile, Reps. Brooks and Gosar continue to fight. Brooks and more than two dozen other representatives recently sent a letter requesting the Rules Committee to strike the amendment because it conflicts with the stated position of the House on immigration "executive action". Both Brooks and Gosar are prepared to offer amendments on the floor of the House to strike the undesirable amendments if it proves necessary. It gladdens the heart to know that there are still legislators of principle in "the People's House".

For interested readers, the roll call of representatives (including the six Republicans) who voted for the Gallego amendment can be found here.