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In case you missed this claim making the social media rounds, former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., is saying that President Barack Obama has extended open arms to illegal immigrants to join our military.
"Morning folks. While you were sleeping, Barack Hussein Obama took out his pen and ordered our Military to enlist illegal aliens," West posted on his Facebook page on Sept. 26. "In other words, this charlatan has allowed those who have disrespected our Constitution and are not citizens to take an oath to support and defend the very document, our rule of law, of which they are in violation....."
West declares Obama’s action an "illegal order" and says the military shouldn’t follow it.
The post caught several PolitiFact readers’ eyes. We will take a closer look at the claim, focusing on the part of West’s post that claims Obama "ordered our Military to enlist illegal aliens."
West, who represented part of Broward and Palm Beach for a term before he lost running to represent a different district in 2012, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a Fox News contributor. Aides to West sent us several news articles, including one in the Military Times, a trade publication that covers the armed services. The article is about an expansion announced Sept. 25, 2014, by the Defense Department to the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program.
Before we get any further, we should explain that this program wasn’t created by -- or even under -- Obama.
In December 2008, under President George W. Bush, the Defense Department announced a pilot program to temporarily allow certain legal aliens who were doctors or nurses -- or could speak certain in-demand languages such as Haitian-Creole, Chinese or Farsi -- to join the military. (Spanish is not on the language list.)
The program started with 1,000 recruits, and in May 2012 the cap was raised to 1,500 a year through Sept. 30, 2014. The program has been open to asylees, refugees, and certain categories of people who hold non-immigrant visas, such as students or workers. All told, the MAVNI program has enrolled about 2,900 individuals since its inception, Defense spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen told PolitiFact.
Just days before the program was set to expire, Jessica Wright, the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, signed a memo that extended the program through the end of fiscal year 2016 and allowed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients to apply.
DACA -- announced by Obama in 2012 -- allows certain illegal immigrants who came to the country as children to apply for a renewable, temporary status that suspends deportation. As of the end of June 2014, about 580,000 individuals received initial deferred action under DACA. There are an estimated 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Where West has a point is that some DACA recipients could eventually join the military program. But contrary to West’s sweeping suggestion, they would be a fraction of a very small program, experts say.
The Defense Department doesn’t have any estimate regarding how many DACA recruits will join, but the cap of 1,500 recruits per year still applies. In the past, thousands more individuals have applied for the program than there are eligible spots.
Margaret Stock, who helped create the MAVNI program when she worked for the Army and who now works as an immigration attorney, told PolitiFact that it will be difficult for immigrants with DACA status to pass the background investigation needed for top secret clearance. She predicted only a few dozen with DACA status will join MAVNI next year.
"The Pentagon should have set up a separate recruiting program for the DACAs," she said. "They would make excellent military recruits, but hardly any of them can qualify for the MAVNI program, and the MAVNI program already has more than enough qualified recruits. Putting DACAs into the MAVNI program doesn’t make any sense," she said.
We asked Christensen, the Pentagon spokesman, about the ability of those with DACA status to pass the background test and he told PolitiFact that the military currently does not enlist individuals with undocumented family members.
However, the Defense Department "is working with the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate options to enlist individuals with undocumented family members and resolve the family members' status prior to the enlistee entering active duty.The Department continues to work closely with the Department of Homeland Security and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in reviewing all MAVNI candidates."
Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University, expects only a small impact from this change.
"Given the narrowness of the MAVNI program, the slight change made by the president, and the extremely limited number of people involved, I would rate the change as entirely insignificant," Janda said. Allowing DACA participants into MAVNI, he said, is "probably an attempt to court some favor with pro-immigration groups prior to the midterms, but it won’t be enough to make them happy. ... The odds of anyone getting in are very slim."
Marc Rosenblum, deputy director at the Migration Policy Institute, told PolitiFact that there are two likely reasons the program was expanded: It aims to attract people who have specialized skills but have a hard time getting into the military, and it falls broadly under the set of actions Obama can take related to immigration. However, it’s a very small piece of immigration reform, he said.
Stock, who helped create MAVNI, also took issue with West’s assertion that Obama’s action was an "illegal order."
"The Pentagon is acting pursuant to a statute, 10 USC 504(b)(2), which gives authority to the Service Secretaries to determine when someone’s enlistment is vital to the national interest," she told PolitiFact.
We should also note that the changes open up the possibility of illegal aliens joining the military, but it is short of an order by the president that they be brought into this particular program, and it does not give them any special priority over other groups.
It’s also worth noting some historical context. While the Department of Defense started this particular pilot program in 2008, non-citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War.
About 5,000 non-citizens enlist for active duty each year. A 2011 consultant’s report for the U.S. Navy stated that about 4 percent of the military services are non-citizens. The report concluded that non-citizens are a valuable recruiting resource because of their large numbers, their useful language skills and the smaller likelihood they will leave the armed services quickly.
In 2002, Bush signed an executive order to expedite naturalization of military members. Since then, the United States has naturalized about 93,100 members of the military. (Steve Blando, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that handles naturalization, told PolitiFact that all of the military members who were naturalized were lawful permanent residents -- that is, "green card" holders -- prior to becoming citizens.)
West said that Obama "ordered our military to enlist illegal aliens."
He’s right that Obama’s decision to allow certain illegal immigrants to apply for temporary status under DACA then enabled the military to announce that those people could apply for the MAVNI program. However, West’s analysis exaggerates what’s going on.
The program in question was initiated by Bush in 2008, before Obama was president. In addition, contrary to West’s sweeping suggestion, experts say it’s doubtful that many undocumented immigrants would be brought into the military. And Obama didn't order the military to take illegal aliens but rather made it an option.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.
Former U.S. Rep. Allen West’s Facebook, Post about illegal immigrants in military, Sept. 26, 2014
U.S. Department of Defense, Memo about MAVNI program, Sept. 26, 2014
U.S. Department of Defense fact sheet, Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) Recruitment Program, May 2012
CNA, "Non-citizens in the enlisted U.S. Military," November 2011
Fox News, "DoD planning to let illegal immigrants enlist," Sept. 26, 2014
The Blaze, "GOP senator says Obama favoring illegals over Americans for military service," Sept. 26, 2014
Redstate, "Obama poised to allow illegal aliens to enlist in the armed forces," May 20, 2014
BizPac Review, "Under the radar: Obama signed executive order allowing illegals to serve in the US military," Sept. 26, 2014
Snopes, "Foreign legions," Sept. 26, 2014
New York Times, "Military path opened for young immigrants," Sept. 25, 2014
Interview, Michele Hickford, spokeswoman for former U.S. Rep. Allen West, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview, Ashley Rosenberg, volunteer for former U.S. Rep. Allen West’s communications director, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview, Marc Rosenblum, deputy director Migration Policy Institute, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview, Department of Defense Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview, Margaret Stock, immigration lawyer who helped create MAVNI program while in Army, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview, Lance Janda, chair of the Department of history and government at Cameron University, Sept. 29, 2014
Interview, Steve Blando, spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Sept. 29, 2014
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