Going into 2016, the latest Gallup survey finds the economy is the most important issue on voters’ minds, with 86 percent of voters saying it is “extremely” or “very” important. Politicians and pundits won’t stop talking about how they think they can fix it. Paul Krugman in 2011 and 2012 said we should pretend there’s an alien invasion and spend money defending ourselves to stimulate the economy.
That’s not how the economy really works. Even Krugman’s hero, John Maynard Keynes, in his famous passage about digging holes (burying money underground) wrote, “It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.” Spending money on something pointless is just wasting money.
So using the military as a jobs program to defend against a non-existent alien invasion wouldn’t create anything useful. If military employment could drive the economy, North Korea, where 30.9 percent of its population is enlisted (44 times the U.S. enrollment rate and almost twice as high as that in the second-leading nation, Finland), would be rich. Ultimately the military, like all government programs, relies on the tax receipts produced by private businesses that drive the economy.
Jobs Don’t Matter—Defense Does
Government employee unions, whether they be teachers unions or the public-sector unions that protested in Wisconsin in 2011, always want to use the government to push for more jobs and benefits for themselves, but it is up to the politicians to work for the interests of the public at large, not just people employed by the government. Government jobs should only exist as a means to carry out the government’s functions, not as an end to themselves.
That’s why it was surprising when Rep. Mo Brooks inserted an amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that tried to prevent illegal immigrants from joining the armed forces. His rationale was that illegal immigrants might deprive Americans of military jobs.
I asked my colleagues to consider how much American families are struggling in an anemic job and wage market and how much the Gallego amendment makes job and income prospects for Americans even worse. It makes no sense to me that, at the same time the Army is downsizing and issuing pink slips to American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, there are Congressmen who seek to help illegal aliens deprive American citizens and lawful immigrants of military service opportunities.
Americans salute the troops and their service, so Brooks’ comment is a better-sounding talking point than defending Internal Revenue Service agents or other Washington bureaucrats, but the military is still a government program that serves a purpose, and what is important is not the impact a policy will have on military jobs but the impact on national security. Whether illegal immigrants would impact American military jobs is irrelevant. The only question is whether they could help protect our nation.
It should be common sense that if you increase the pool of candidates, you will end up with higher-quality recruits. You will have more candidates to choose from, which must mean more qualified candidates. If it turns out that somehow no illegal immigrants are qualified, then no American jobs are threatened.
In fact, the pool of qualified candidates for the military in the general population of current Americans may be shrinking due to obesity. In 2014, it was reported that 71 percent of American youth would fail to qualify for military service. “What is very clear is that the trend is going in the wrong direction when it comes to (the recruiting pool) being physically fit,” Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet said.
Immigrant Military Service Has a Long, Honorable Tradition
Is there any argument against allowing some illegal immigrants—who will already be staying in America indefinitely anyway, due to Obama’s executive amnesty—to help America out on the battlefield?
“There are national security concerns that come along with illegal immigrants serving in our military,” said Rep. Steve Russell, another Republican who helped shepherd through Brooks’ amendment.
Immigrants have already been serving honorably in the U.S. military for the entire history of the country. Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, wrote about Silvestre Santana Herrera, a Medal of Honor winner in World War II who was brought here illegally from Mexico as a baby. In fact, there have been more than 500 Medal of Honor winners born abroad. Not all of them were immigrants, and not all of the immigrants came here without papers, but all of them put their lives on the line to defend this country. No one who loves America enough to fight for it should have his or her patriotism questioned.
Throughout history, immigration law has recognized the sacrifices of non-citizens in the military and expedited their pathway to citizenship. According to Archives.gov,
The third major exception to the general rule was the special consideration given to veterans. An 1862 law allowed honorably discharged Army veterans of any war to petition for naturalization–without previously having filed a declaration of intent–after only 1 year of residence in the United States. An 1894 law extended the same no-previous-declaration privilege to honorably discharged 5-year veterans of the Navy or Marine Corps. Over 192,000 aliens were naturalized between May 9, 1918, and June 30, 1919, under an act of May 9, 1918, that allowed aliens serving in the U.S. armed forces during “the present war” to file a petition for naturalization without making a declaration of intent or proving 5 years’ residence. Laws enacted in 1919, 1926, 1940, and 1952 continued various preferential treatment provisions for veterans.
Since October 1, 2012, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, more than 102,266 members of the military have been naturalized as citizens. There are still qualifications for citizenship for immigrant soldiers, including English-language abilities, knowledge of U.S. history and civics, good moral character, and “attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.”
Even with Brooks’ amendment passing, illegal immigrants given deferred action are already eligible under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MANVI) program that has been in effect on and off since 2008. The program helps recruit those whose skills are “vital to the national interest,” in the areas of health care, language, and cultural capabilities. (Can anyone argue that an immigrant from Kurdistan, Laos, or the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, where the Moro language is spoken, wouldn’t have possible advantages over natural-born U.S. citizens in those particular languages, among the 44 languages listed on the program fact sheet?)
If becoming a citizen of the United States isn’t a right but a privilege, what better way for foreign citizens to earn it than by defending our freedom? If terrorists and tyrants are threatening me, my family, and my fellow citizens, I’m not worried about the country or origin of those who are fighting to defend us. What matters is that our military is as strong as it can be. Viewing the military as a source of “job and income prospects for Americans” rather than a fighting force diminishes its strength.