We Love You, We Hate You

In an effort to bolster their numbers and fill specific needs, the U.S. military is implementing a pilot program to recruit (legal) immigrants who are not permanent residents, reports the New York Times.  The carrot they will dangle is an expedited pathway to citizenship.

Immigrants who are permanent residents, with documents commonly known as green cards, have long been eligible to enlist. But the new effort, for the first time since the Vietnam War, will open the armed forces to temporary immigrants if they have lived in the United States for a minimum of two years, according to military officials familiar with the plan…

Pentagon officials expect that the lure of accelerated citizenship will be powerful. Under a statute invoked in 2002 by the Bush administration, immigrants who serve in the military can apply to become citizens on the first day of active service, and they can take the oath in as little as six months.

Immigrants have composed a notable part of the U.S. military for years (making up more than half of the ranks in the 1840s.  In modern times, this has especially been the case in the post-9/11 era when demands on personnel have meant widespread concerns they are being spread too thin.  As the article notes, some 29,000 immigrants now serve (and this figure does not account for the more than 35,000 active personnel who have become naturalized citizens since 9/11).

The effort–which targets “immigrants who speak one or more of 35 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Igbo (a tongue spoken in Nigeria), Kurdish, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian and Tamil”–is a pilot program, which has been in the works for some time:

The program will begin small — limited to 1,000 enlistees nationwide in its first year, most for the Army and some for other branches. If the pilot program succeeds as Pentagon officials anticipate, it will expand for all branches of the military. For the Army, it could eventually provide as many as 14,000 volunteers a year, or about one in six recruits…

Although the Pentagon has had wartime authority to recruit immigrants since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, military officials have moved cautiously to lay the legal groundwork for the temporary immigrant program to avoid controversy within the ranks and among veterans over the prospect of large numbers of immigrants in the armed forces.

Spanish speakers are not eligible, although the military continues to struggle with its desire for more Latinos.

I don’t find this particular effort at military recruitment that significant (unlike many of these folks consumed by their fears of an immigrant take over).  It does strike (yet another) hypocritical chord in the “immigration symphony” that is the United States.  While some sectors of this nation hate immigrants, others covet them.

The sad irony is there are people who give much of their daily life to the betterment of this country (even subsidizing our lifestyle by their dimished position in a racially-segregated and abusive labor market) and yet are afforded no consideration in terms of citizenship or other legal rights.

The difference here, of course, is a bargaining chip these immigrants have: their lives.  The article quotes an immigrant serviceman who became a citizen who, perhaps unintentionally, said it best: “We’re going to give people the opportunity to be part of the United States who are dying to be part of this country and they weren’t able to before now.”

4 thoughts on “We Love You, We Hate You

  1. The hypocrisy of the “immigrant symphony” is that we (not thee and me, but some large sectors of American opinion — and not necessarily lily-white) are pretending that a racial/ethnic argument is an economic one.

    By focusing on “immigrants,” we can say it’s all about employment, resources, and so forth; if confronted with Syrians, Salvadorans, and Swiss, our dermal and cultural prejudices are suddenly squinting in the blinding sunlight.

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