US: plan to recruiting undocumented immigrants for the military?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jan 7 16:38:22 UTC 2007

Hiring Undocumented Immigrants for the U.S. Military

January 5, 2007

Who Will Serve? Growing the Military


In late December 2006, the Bush administration reversed its previous
position and agreed to a permanent expansion of the Army and Marine Corps.
In reality, the size of the two "ground services" has grown steadily since
2001 when Congress approved a temporary increase of 30,000 to the Army and
authorized additional increases to the Army and Marines in 2005 and 2006.
The current proposal would make these increases permanent and by 2012
achieve the objective of an active-duty Army of 542,400 and a Marine Corps
of 190,000. In their public statements, Pentagon officials claimed that
finding the bodies to reach these goals would not be difficult. Increased
bonuses, massive publicity campaigns, and appeals to patriotism would be
enough to attract volunteers, they argued.

Lesser-known programs such as the Army GED Plus Enlistment Program in
which applicants without high school diplomas are allowed to enlist while
they complete a high school equivalency certificate are expected to help
(interestingly, the GED Plus Enlistment Program is available only in inner
city areas). The Army's recent fudging of entrance requirements to accept
an increased percentage of recruits with minor criminal records may also
raise enlistment numbers. Given the prospect of a prolonged U.S. presence
in Iraq, however, the Pentagon's optimistic predictions about increasing
the size of the ground services by making minor adjustments to existing
recruiting practices may not pan out. In anticipation of difficult days
ahead for recruiters, no sooner had Bush announced his decision than
conservative think tanks began to recycle proposals about recruiting
foreigners into the U.S. military.

In a recent Boston Globe article, unidentified Army sources reported that
Pentagon officials and Congress are investigating "the feasibility of
going beyond U.S. borders to recruit soldiers and Marines." Michael
O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, Thomas Donnelly of the American
Enterprise Institute, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign relations
cited historical precedents for using foreign troops. Since at least 2005
Boot has been recommending the establishment of "recruiting stations along
the U.S.-Mexico border" as a way to solve the problems of military
manpower and illegal immigration. But the fact that several sources in the
Globe article, including spokesmen for the Army and the Latino advocacy
group National Council for La Raza (NCLR), expressed disagreement with
proposals to recruit foreign nationals means that other more feasible
options may begin to surface.

A likely scenario is that the Pentagon will focus on one specific sector
of the undocumented population--foreign nationals raised and educated in
the United States. According to the Urban Institute, every year
approximately 60,000 undocumented immigrants or children of immigrants
(who have lived in the United States five years or longer) graduate from
U.S. high schools. By marketing the military to this group, problems
associated with the recruitment of foreigners such as poor English
language skills and low educational levels could be alleviated. So far
military recruiters have limited their efforts to the pursuit of citizens
and permanent residents (green card holders). It is a little-known fact,
however, that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006
amended current legal statutes by allowing military service secretaries to
waive citizenship and residency requirements "if such Secretary determines
that the enlistment of such person is vital to the national interest"
(U.S. Code Title 10, Chapter 31, 504: 2006).

Is the DREAM Act the Pentagon's Dream Too?

If the Pentagon were to decide to exercise its new prerogative and begin
to recruit undocumented youth in order to grow the Army and Marines, the
most obvious selling point would be permanent residency and eventual
citizenship. This in fact is one of the little-known aspects of the DREAM
Act, legislation that would grant conditional residency to most
undocumented high school graduates and permanent residency in exchange for
the successful completion of two years of college or two years of military

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 10,
2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu said: "According to an April
2006 study from the National Immigration Law Center, there are an
estimated 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented alien young adults who entered the
U.S. at an early age and graduate from high school each year, many of whom
are bright, energetic and potentially interested in military
service...Provisions of S. 2611, such as the DREAM Act, would provide
these young people the opportunity of serving the United States in

More recently, Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a
faculty member at West Point told a reporter that the DREAM Act could help
recruiters meet their goals by providing a "highly qualified cohort of
young people" without the unknown personal details that would accompany
foreign recruits. "They are already going to come vetted by Homeland
Security. They will already have graduated from high school," she said.
"They are prime candidates."

The lure of citizenship is already a tool for recruiting green card
holders, especially because of expedited naturalization procedures put in
place for military personnel in 2002. In San Diego, for example,
recruiters have told permanent residents "I can help you get citizenship"
when in fact the military has no input into the final granting or denial
of citizenship.
Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, roughly 20% of legal
residents in the military who have applied for naturalization since late
2001 have been denied citizenship. This suggests that military service
carries no guarantee that permanent residents will be granted the one
benefit for which they probably enlisted and for which they may be forced
to risk their life.

Other anecdotes recount recruiters threatening that the immigration status
of recruits and their family would be affected should the recruit try to
back out of an enlistment agreement. More devious recruiters have used the
law requiring undocumented youth to register for Selective Service as a
way to convince non-English speaking parents that there is obligatory
military service in the United States.

The expansion of the recruiting pool to include the undocumented would be
a Recruiting Command's dream and may be the only way for the Pentagon to
increase the size of the Army and Marines Corps. A 2006 study by the
Migration Policy Institute calculated that passage of the DREAM Act "would
immediately make 360,000 unauthorized high school graduates aged 18 to 24
eligible for conditional legal status [and] that about 715,000
unauthorized youth between ages 5 and 17 would become eligible sometime in
the future."

Ironically, nativist and restrictionist groups as well as anti-militarism
activists will oppose the recruitment of the undocumented although for
completely different reasons. Organizations such as National Council for
La Raza (NCLR) that oppose the recruitment of foreigners would most likely
support a vehicle for recruiting undocumented graduates from U.S. high
schools. In May 2006, NCLR praised the passage of the Comprehensive
Immigration Reform Act (Senate Bill 2611) that included a DREAM Act

While the DREAM Act may facilitate access to college for a small
percentage of these undocumented students, in many cases other factors
will militate against the college option. Given the difficulty
undocumented youth have in affording college tuition, the pressure on them
to make financial contributions to extended families, and the tendency
among many to adopt uncritical forms of patriotism based on "gratitude,"
military not college recruiters may be the ones who benefit the most.

As one undocumented student wrote to me:

"I was brought to America [from Mexico] when I was 12. I am 21 now and I
am only going to college because in the state of Illinois I pay in-state
tuition despite being illegal. I would serve in the military if I was
given an opportunity to do so and DIE for America if necessary. Shouldn't
I be able to be legal?"

Military manpower needs, limited economic and educational opportunity, and
the desire for social acceptance could transport immigrants and their
children to the frontlines of future imperial misadventures such as the
quagmire in Iraq.

Jorge Mariscal is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino
Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego.


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