Friday, December 29, 2006

Military looks to immigrants to fill its ranks.

On April 23, 1971, a young John Kerry speaking before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations asked the quintessential question about the winding down of the war in Vietnam. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Today, as we begin to ask the same question of our misadventure in Iraq, odds are that this hypothetical "last man" will not be what we've come to think of as a typical American fighting man. He will not be the naïve farm boy far from home, the wisecracking city-kid with a heart of gold, the gruff but caring "Sarge", or any of the myriad of other stereotypes that have permeated popular culture. It could be that the last man in Iraq will not even be a member of the military, but rather one of the 100,000 civilian contractors doing everything from driving supply trucks to engaging in covert actions.

Now it appears that there may be a very good chance that the last man to die won't even be a US citizen, but instead a foreign-born resident looking to enter the fast track to citizenship. If the Pentagon has their way, the last man to die in Baghdad or Fallujah will have been born not in Des Moines or Dallas, but rather Manila or Mexico City.

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According to Pentagon officials, the military is looking at proposals to flesh out its thinning ranks with non-citizens, even going so far as to open up recruiting stations in foreign countries to attract prospective immigrants with the lure of a fast track to US citizenship.

The idea of signing up residents who are seeking U.S. citizenship is gaining traction as a way to address a critical need for the Pentagon, while fully absorbing some of the roughly one million immigrants that enter the United States legally each year.

The proposal to induct more noncitizens, which is still largely on the drawing board, has to clear a number of hurdles. So far, the Pentagon has been quiet about specifics, like who would be eligible to join, where the recruiting stations would be, and what the minimum standards might involve, like English proficiency. In the meantime, the Pentagon and the immigration authorities have expanded a program that accelerates citizenship for legal residents who volunteer for the military.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of immigrants in uniform who have become U.S. citizens has increased from 750 in 2001 to almost 4,600 last year, according to military statistics.

With severe manpower strains because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a mandate to expand the overall size of the military, the Pentagon is under pressure to consider a variety of proposals involving foreign recruits, according to a military affairs analyst.

"It works as a military idea and it works in the context of American immigration," said Thomas Donnelly, a military scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a leading proponent of recruiting more foreigners to serve in the military.


Already, the army and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security have "made it easier for green-card holders who do enlist to get their citizenship," Hilferty said. Other army officials, who asked not to be identified, said personnel officials were working with Congress and other parts of the government to test the feasibility of going beyond U.S. borders to recruit soldiers and marines.

Currently, Pentagon policy stipulates that only immigrants legally residing in the United States are eligible to enlist. …

A recent change in U.S. law, however, gave the Pentagon authority to bring immigrants to the United States if it determines it is vital to national security. So far, the Pentagon has not taken advantage of it, but the calls are growing to use this new authority.

Some top military thinkers believe the United States should go as far as targeting foreigners in their native countries.

Boston Globe

The armed forces already have large numbers of foreign-born personnel serving both at home and abroad.

About 69,300 foreign-born men and women serve in the U.S. armed forces, roughly 5 percent of the total active-duty force, according to the most recent data. Of those, 43 percent – 29,800 – are not U.S. citizens. The Pentagon says more than 100 immigrant soldiers have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As of October, more than 25,000 immigrant soldiers had become U.S. citizens as a result. Another 40,000 are believed eligible to apply. And roughly a third of noncitizens in the all-volunteer military come from Mexico and Central America.

Dallas Morning News

So far the recruitment has been limited to "legal residents" of the United States, but that could all change if the military's need becomes greater. The legislative groundwork for enlistment of undocumented immigrants has already been laid.

In 2002, Mr. Bush issued an executive order waiving the three-year waiting period for naturalization for noncitizens in the military. One day of active-duty service now qualifies a noncitizen soldier to apply for citizenship.

A year later, Congress streamlined the naturalization process by waiving all fees, granting posthumous citizenship to any noncitizen killed in combat and extending eligibility for citizenship to surviving spouses.

Legislation passed in January potentially changed the landscape of noncitizens in the military. The new law by Congress provided uniformity for the five military services, allowing the various service secretaries to waive the requirement that noncitizen recruits hold lawful permanent resident immigration status if "such enlistment is vital to the national interest."

Officially, none of the services – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard – will accept any new recruit who is not a citizen or green-card holder. And noncitizens cannot enlist for any specialty that requires a security clearance.

Dallas Morning News

The only question that remains is: How long will it take until the military's need to fill its ranks becomes pressing enough that it will classify any and all undocumented immigrants as "vital to the national interest"?

Perhaps only as long as it takes to fill all the recently opened detention centers set up to house the undocumented swept up in raids like those at the Swift&Co. plants.

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