PolitiFact: West exaggerates Obama’s role in military enlistments

This article was edited for length. To see a complete version and its sources go to http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2014/oct/02/allen-west/obama-ordered-military-enlist-illegal-aliens-allen/.

President Barack Obama “ordered our military to enlist illegal aliens.”

— Allen West on Friday, September 26th, 2014 in a Facebook post

Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., says 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.

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.

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.

The program started with 1,000 recruits, and in May 2012 the cap was raised to 1,500 a year through Sept. 30, 2014.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

Our ruling

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. 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.

We rate it Mostly False.