Three ways that Rep. Steve King and the anti-immigrant movement lie about the ENLIST Act

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • May 08, 2014

Service members becoming naturalized US citizens in Texas

Recently, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) released its “Top 10 Reasons to Oppose the ENLIST Act.” Predictably, their work is filled with half-truths, a lack of context, some lies and biased buzz-words like “amnesty” and “illegal.”

FAIR’s list followed yet another anti-immigrant rant by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who claimed:

“It isn’t that we have to hire mercenaries to put on a uniform,” King said. “We have always had an adequate number of American patriots to step up who are lawfully present in the United States, most of them citizens.”

The ENLIST Act (HR 2377) offers permanent residence to honorably discharged soldiers who were brought into the United States 1) prior to their 15th birthday (not as 42 year-olds as FAIR claims) and 2) prior to December 31, 2011.

A closer examination of King and FAIR’s points, though, reveals holes large enough to drive a tank through. Unless otherwise linked, I’ll be leaning heavily on Matt Kennard’s excellently researched book Irregular Army.

1. King likens undocumented soldiers to “mercenaries,” claiming the U.S. military doesn’t need soldiers-for-hire and is having no problem attracting recruits.

This is a half-truth at best.

Both FAIR and the Heritage Foundation cite figures that claim all armed service branches have met or exceeded their recruitment quotas for the fiscal years of 2013 and 2014. While this is true, this statement lacks context — pointedly, it fails to acknowledge that our country is in a prolonged period of de-escalation from the ground War on Terror.

By 2005, during the escalation of that war, as Kennard writes, “the army missed its recruitment target by the largest margins since 1979.” This was forced upon the military by the Bush Administration via Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s plan “to eviscerate the US military, which was to become merely an appendage to the massive private forces the US would employ in the future;” and so by 2011, “the DOD (Department of Defense) had 95,461 private contractors working for them in Iraq compared to 95,900 US military personnel.”

So, yes, we were relying on the mercenaries working for Blackwater, Dyncorp, and other so-called “private security firms.”

2. Stemming from the previous line of argument, FAIR claims that “The Enlist Act is not needed to boost military recruitment.”

In 1998, a plan for attacking Iraq drafted by ranking military officials outlined that “a force of more than 380,000” would be necessary. Rumsfeld’s privatization plan ultimately allowed for only 130,000, and “by 2005, just two years into the war in Iraq, people were openly talking about the fact that the U.S. military had reached its breaking point.” Senate hearings and government-sanctioned reports later confirmed this. Things were so bad the Draft Bill of 2006 was introduced.

Pulled threadbare, as Kennard outlines, the U.S. military was forced to:

  • relax re-enlistment standards to lows only previously indulged during the Vietnam War (weight, drug and alcohol abuse, etc);
  • raise base pay and spend 1.4 billion solely on re-enlistment bonuses between 2000-2008;
  • call up a record number of National Guard reserves (nearly 40,000 in 2004 alone);
  • increase the amount and durations of deployments to insane levels; and officially and unofficially relax standards of recruitment (IQ, physical fitness, tattoos of political extremism, etc).

King’s boasting that “(w)e have always had an adequate number” of recruits is patently false.

3. FAIR claims this bill “creates additional burdens for our Armed Forces” by forcing too many background checks on the military and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This is a lie.

According to USCIS only 89,095 soldiers had been naturalized under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) between September 2002 and May 2013. During a relatively similar period from September 11, 2001 and November 11, 2011, some “2,333,972 American military personnel had been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or both.”

In other words, only about 3.8% of soldiers were naturalized under the INA—it’s a model process is already in place.

The likes of FAIR and King claim patriotism, but yet they represent a movement with an extended history of undercutting bills benefiting troops like the famous Philippine Division of WWII. As Kennard writes, “In many ways, the military is a reflection of the society from which it is drawn.”

So too is the view of FAIR and King a narrowed reflection of America, one where even immigrants who’ve risked their lives honorably in combat — something King avoided during Vietnam — are denied the legal right to call home, “home.”


Image source: Heather DiMasi

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