David R. Henderson  

Having Trouble Getting Qualified Recruits? DON'T Expand Your Pool

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Representative Dave Brat (Republican, Virginia), writing in The Daily Signal, objects to members of Congress who want to expand the pool of eligible recruits by accepting illegal aliens. His argument is not simply that they're illegal. Whether you think that argument is good will depend, on part, on what you think of letting people get away with breaking the immigration law(s).

What does not make sense, though, is one of his economic arguments. And that's surprising, given that Congressman Brat is not just a random Congressman: he was recently an economics professor.

He makes two economic arguments. The first is that allowing illegal immigrants doesn't make sense when Congress is the midst of getting rid of soldiers. Brat writes:

The recruitment is being encouraged at the very same time the Pentagon is laying off tens of thousands of American troops. According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, the active Army will be cut by more than 80,000 uniformed personnel by the end of fiscal year 2017.

My guess is that this is like comparing apples and oranges--that it could make sense to cut uniformed personnel in various categories even while expanding the number of recruits. But I don't know. I've see the military do crazy things. Brat may have a point.

But what are we to make of his other argument? He writes:

Moreover, competition for enlistment is already so challenging that American high school graduates now face "more difficulty qualifying for the armed services than ever in the 40-year history of the all-volunteer force," according to media reports.

I tracked down the original article in which the quoted passage in his article appeared. It's worth reading. Here's a relevant passage:
The Army nationwide is on pace to hit its fiscal year 2014 goal of signing up 57,000 recruits for active duty.

That's down from about 80,000 new recruits each year from fiscal 2005 through 2008. Only once, in 2005, did Army recruiters fail to hit their mark.

In those years, much of their recruiting success was owed to commanders granting waivers for conduct and health issues that in peacetime would keep candidates out of the military. Only 86 percent of new recruits at the height of the Iraq War had completed high school. Many with felony convictions were allowed in.

Today, 99 percent of recruits have graduated from high school. The military branches expect higher scores in the ASVAB test, which quizzes candidates on tools and electrical circuitry as well as on language and math. Even a past misdemeanor may disqualify a potential recruit.


In other words, the U.S. military, which was not picky at or near the height of the Afghan and Iraq wars, is now being pickier. To help them be picky, they are expanding the pool of potential recruits to include illegal immigrants.

Here's another quote from that same piece, one that quotes a retired Army lieutenant colonel:

"It's very expensive to recruit," he [the recruiter] added. "We don't have the flexibility we once had to get it wrong with one kid and hope the next one works out."

Again, if Congressman Brat's complaint is simply that they're illegal, well, there's not much I could do to convince him. But that's not his only complaint. He seems to want the military to hire less-qualified Americans over more-qualified foreigners.

Of course, Brat could argue that illegal immigrants are also felons. I would bet, although I don't know, that the felons that the U.S. military hired in about 2005 committed more crimes more serious than working in the United States illegally.

But that's not his argument. His narrowly economic argument doesn't make sense. It amounts to saying that a military that wants to picky in whom it hires should hire from a smaller pool.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Jeff writes:

He makes a later point that allowing illegal immigrants to enlist will inevitably lead to calls for amnesty (because who would publicly support denying citizenship to a veteran?) and therefore this will attract more minors to attempt to illegally immigrate, hoping to do a quick two year enlistment or what have you and thus obtain citizenship in the US. I think this argument is much stronger.

Of course, being a big Heinlein fan, I can only argue that Brat is wrong and that the policy of granting citizenship to veterans ought to be adopted and expanded to include natives as well, ala Starship Troopers. Make everybody a non-voting legal resident until they've finished a two year enlistment. Sadly, this will never happen, though.

Glenn writes:

I believe his point is simpler and more accurate than you have given credit for:

The current supply of willing recruits exceeds the demand. In that kind of an environment, expanding the eligibility pool to include illegal immigrants doesn't make sense, if the goal is simply to insure the Army meets its recruiting goals.

I'm not sure what the states purpose of this policy change is, but I suspect its closer to "help the Army meet its recruiting goals" than "illegal immigrants are generally better qualified to be American soldiers than Americans".

Hazel Meade writes:

How about just expanding it to legal non-immigrants such as foreign students, and offering them a permanent residents visa as an incentive?

Plenty of foreign students come here in the hopes of eventually getting a job and getting sponsored. This would be one more way for a foreign student to get a job that would lead to immigration.

We already let people that serve in the military naturalize faster, so why not let immigrants get permanent status faster?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Glenn,
I believe his point is simpler and more accurate than you have given credit for.
I don’t think so. Explanation below.
The current supply of willing recruits exceeds the demand. In that kind of an environment, expanding the eligibility pool to include illegal immigrants doesn't make sense, if the goal is simply to insure the Army meets its recruiting goals.
If all the military cared about was “willing recruits,” then you would be right. But as I emphasized in my post, the military cares, with good reason, about quality.
I'm not sure what the states purpose of this policy change is, but I suspect its closer to "help the Army meet its recruiting goals" than "illegal immigrants are generally better qualified to be American soldiers than Americans".
This doesn’t make sense in two ways: first on your own terms, second in failing to think on the margin.
Your own terms: Why would the Army need more people available to recruit from if, as you said earlier, the supply already exceeds the demand?
Failing to think on the margin: Of course, it would not be the case that "illegal immigrants are generally better qualified to be American soldiers than Americans.” All you need for my point is that some illegal immigrants are better qualified than some of the Americans they would replace.

NZ writes:

Call me old fashioned, but I always thought the whole point of having a military was to protect our citizens and our sovereignty.

Recruiting illegal immigrants and then turning them into citizens after a short stint in the armed forces does, at best, nothing to protect our citizens, and it does plenty to erode our sovereignty.

Glenn writes:

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David R. Henderson writes:

@NZ,
Call me old fashioned, but I always thought the whole point of having a military was to protect our citizens and our sovereignty.
Recruiting illegal immigrants and then turning them into citizens after a short stint in the armed forces does, at best, nothing to protect our citizens, and it does plenty to erode our sovereignty.

It’s not that you’re old-fashioned, but that you’re off topic. Reread my post and see if you can figure out why.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

@NZ, the Second War Powers Act of 1942 (56 Stat. 182, 186) exempted noncitizen service members from many naturalization requirements (age, race, residence, any educational tests, fees, etc.).

To become a citizen, a naturalizing service member needed to file a petition for naturalization and swear the required Oath of Allegiance. Later, a 1944 statute (58 Stat. 885) also eliminated the requirement for proof of lawful entry to the U.S.

Of the 300,000 foreign-born persons who entered the Army between July 1, 1940, and June 30, 1945, about 109,000 were not citizens. Almost all of these non-citizens became naturalized by the end of the war.

Even 30,000 aliens from enemy countries were allowed into the Army.

We seem to have won WWII anyway...

Tom West writes:

I think Jeff is correct in that there is significant precedent for service in the military leading to at least a moral claim for citizenship.

I seem to recall reading that there have been several examples of countries choosing not to allow certain minorities to serve for fear that that would give them a moral claim for equality.

Charlie writes:

He never says the military should be pickier or needs better candidates. Where are you getting that from?

He's saying as a statement of fact the military is being very picky, as picky as they've been in 40 years.

He argues that we don't need this, that this is Democrats pushing a hidden immigration agenda under the guide of national defense.

He doesn't make any logical error, though implicitly he does clearly want the military to accept less qualified citizens than more qualified illegal immigrants.

Charlie writes:

Even your title doesn't make sense, "Having Trouble Getting Recruits? don't expand your pool"

A correct statement of his argument would be: "If we are having such an easy time getting recruits, why do we have to expand the pool? Hidden Democrat agenda!"

NZ writes:

@David Henderson:

You were focusing on Brat's logic and economics, while I got stuck on the issue Brat was talking about in the first place. Is that a fair evaluation of my off-topic-ness?

@Mr. Econotarian:

WWII was very different from our current situation. Both the war itself was different than our current military engagements, and our country (and its military) was a lot different. (Remember, this was pre-1965 Immigration Act.) I don't see the usefulness of the comparison.

Besides, it's certainly possible (though I won't presume to make the argument myself) that we might have won WWII without those immigrant servicemen anyway, and that the aftermath (1950s boom, etc.) might have even been better. For example, what impact might it have had on the Cold War and the Red Scare if we didn't have all those extra immigrants? (Again, I'm not making any assertion, just posing the possibility.)

David R. Henderson writes:

@NZ,
You were focusing on Brat's logic and economics, while I got stuck on the issue Brat was talking about in the first place. Is that a fair evaluation of my off-topic-ness?
Yes. If I post about argument A someone made for position B, and grant that there could be other arguments for position B, then yes, it’s off-topic to repeat those other arguments given that my focus is on argument A.

Dale writes:

When I was in the military, 1969-1971, if I understood and recall correctly, foreign nationals were welcome, and given citizenship for serving. They were good Marines because they were choosing to be Americans, and not passively accepting the status as an accident of birth. And, they were willing to earn citizenship by serving well. I say, let any foreign national who is better qualified than a native American earn citizenship in this way.

NZ writes:

@David Henderson:

You said:

If I post about argument A someone made for position B, and grant that there could be other arguments for position B, then yes, it’s off-topic to repeat those other arguments given that my focus is on argument A.
I agree. However, you didn't grant that there could be other arguments, only that Brat could have made one other argument: to summarize, "illegal immigrants shouldn't be allowed to serve in the military because they're lawbreakers or more specifically because they're felons." And I didn't repeat that argument, either.

It seemed relevant to discuss the question of what's Brat's real complaint about illegal immigrants serving in the military in exchange for citizenship. I don't know much about Brat except that he defeated Eric Cantor in one of the biggest upsets in history, largely by taking Cantor to task over the immigration issue. Given that knowledge, I thought Brat and his supporters might have a more fundamental objection than "Well, illegal immigrants are illegal!"

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