Military Recruitment and the Immigration Debate

Jorge Mariscal -

In an obscure memoir of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, an undocumented Mexican who had enlisted in the U.S. Army with the aid of an unscrupulous recruiter, writes: “I realized that for me to live in the United States, the system was asking me to pay a high price. Now I probably would have to give my life. Was it worth it?”

During the Vietnam War period, citizens from foreign countries in the U.S. military were rare and unknown to the public. Today, although they make up only a small percentage of the overall force, they appear regularly in media stories, Pentagon publicity, and nativist rants about a Mexican invasion.

Non-citizens make up 3-5% of total military personnel. To date, they have received more than 200 medals and awards in the combat zone. More than 100 of them have received posthumous citizenship after making the ultimate sacrifice. The majority of them have roots in Mexico and Latin America.

Is the U.S. military becoming a foreign legion? Not yet, but the strain on active duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel is becoming unbearable. General David Petraeus’s report to Congress last month — and even recent statements made by Democratic Party presidential candidates — make clear that the occupation of Iraq will last many more years. Fresh bodies will be hard to find, so there is renewed interest in a piece of legislation that could produce a bumper crop of eligible non-citizens for recruiters.

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act has been floating around the halls of Congress for more than six years, and Draft NOtices was one of the first publications to warn about its military component. If passed, the legislation would provide a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented young people who were raised and completed high school in the United States. Those who qualify would have to complete two years of college or enlist in the military in order to earn a permanent green card.

The Latino community was quick to support the legislation because of its educational component, but for the first five years there was a deafening silence in Latino circles about the military option. This changed only recently when the Pentagon and elected officials began to openly discuss the DREAM Act as a possible fix for the military’s manpower needs.

In 2006, Bill Carr, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, told reporters that the DREAM legislation would help boost military recruiting. Last July, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said, "The DREAM Act would address a very serious recruitment crisis that faces our military. Under the DREAM Act, tens of thousands of well-qualified potential recruits would become eligible for military service for the first time."

Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at West Point who helped draft the legislation confirmed that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a "highly qualified cohort of young people." She added, “Passage of the bill could well solve the Armed Forces’ enlisted recruiting woes.”

Drawing on cultural stereotypes about “Hispanic culture,” she told the Orange County Register that “Hispanic immigrants who would be affected by this bill would be even more likely to join the military because it is considered the honorable thing to do in the Hispanic culture.” One wonders if Lt. Col. Stock is teaching her cadets such banal and reductive clichés about diverse Latino traditions.

The irony, of course, is that while the Pentagon chases young non-citizens to fill the ranks of the U.S. occupation forces, other non-citizen workers whose economic contributions to the nation are undeniable are being pursued and harassed by other agencies of the U.S. government.

As one worker told me, Latino communities are experiencing a “double deportation.” On the one hand, military recruiters are flooding high schools with Latino majorities and the Pentagon is pushing hard for passage of the DREAM Act. Many of those young people who are successfully recruited will end up in Iraq and Afghanistan. A metaphorical deportation, of course, but from the family’s point of view a painful removal of a loved one nonetheless.

At the same time, the undocumented parents and siblings of those soldiers, sailors, aviators, and Marines watch as armored vehicles carrying teams of armed officers invade their neighborhoods to conduct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. Just this month, for example, in the working-class neighborhood of Barrio Logan in San Diego, local police surrounded a ten-block area while helicopters circled overhead and ICE agents swept through in full combat regalia. Similar actions are taking place across the country.

Some of these parents have been arrested and scheduled for deportation hearings. Remember that these are parents whose sons and daughters are fighting “for democracy” in Iraq. One such case is that of U.S. Army Private Armando Soriano, 20, who died in Iraq in 2004. This summer ICE raids swept through Houston. Armando’s father was detained and is currently threatened with deportation.

In late September, Senator Durbin agreed to drop the in-state tuition rate clause of the DREAM Act in response to pressure from restrictionist groups and to garner more Republican votes. This change would have blocked many undocumented students from taking the college option and, inadvertently or not, would have placed them on the military pathway to legalization. Despite Durbin’s concessions, the DREAM amendment was not attached to this year’s defense appropriations bill and so disappeared once again into the congressional ether for at least several more months, if not forever.

If the DREAM Act ever does resurface and is eventually approved, thousands of Latino youth who are unable to take the college option will be tempted to enlist to attain legal status. With no end in sight to the occupation of Iraq and with other wars looming in the future, they, like the undocumented Mexican soldier in Vietnam, will have to ask themselves whether or not the price is simply too high.

Information sources: Congressional Record--Senate (July 13, 2007); Ernesto Portillo, Jr., “DREAM Act better than nothing, but flawed,” Arizona Star (September 26, 2007); Vanja Petrovic, “DREAM Act blocked from defense bill,” Orange County Register (September 27, 2007).

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)


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 Learning the Issues about Youth Demilitarization

NNOMY ReaderThe NNOMY Reader is a useful primer to learn about the realities of military recruitment, the militarism effecting our youth in schools and our opportunities for peaceful coexistance. This collection of articles represents a historical overview of the U.S. based counter-recruitment movement's strategies to inform and intervene in schools and the community about the Pentagon's multi-billion dollar programs to recruit America's youth into escalating wars. The NNOMY Reader also includes some information on alternatives to enlistment, as well as research presented by activists and investigators on the nature and risks of cultural militarization and how it  threatens our democracy. Learn more

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