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.”

The “Border Beat” (December 30, 2008)

Needless to say, it’s been a full year in Latinolandia USA.  With the conclusion of the election season, there has been something of a tempering of the media’s focus on race issues, and on Latino-related ones in particular.  It is at times like these that significant stories might slip under the radar.

Here’s the final “Border Beat” of 2008:

• Mexican immigrants moving back home amid sour economy (Chicago Tribune)
For over a century now, Mexican workers have been fulfilling the seasonal labor needs of various sectors of the US economy.  This has only increased over time with the organized and formal importation of workers from Mexico, to the dismantling of union labor, to the highly orchestrated and massaged system of international capitalism linking businesses in the US and elsewhere to production and (often manipulated) labor reserves in Latin America.  With the seasonal labor has come a seasonal movement back, during the down times, an important time of family reunification and economic stimulus to regions of Mexico.  Right now, a lot of that movement seems to be “permanent.”

• City of Immigrants Fills Jail Cells With Its Own (New York Times)
This story is absolutely fascinating and tragic at the same time.  It is an in-depth exposé into the complex system of pubic-private human detention and exportation the US government and its corporate subsidiaries have developed over the past decade or so.  This is a long story but well-worth the read.

• Latin American migrants often don’t make it to U.S. (Baltimore Sun)
US Americans are often fixated on their southern border with Mexico as the ground zero in the “war on illegal immigration.”  What they don’t realize is the way human migration often takes place in segments–whether from rural town to urban center and then across the border (as it does for most Mexicans) or across multiple borders (as it does for many Central Americans from south of Mexico).  This piece provides a glimpse into that process while also centering a discussion of the dangers involved in human migration within the hemisphere.  Our ground zero has taken the lives of some four to five thousand people in the past decade or so.  But it is not the only geography of violence.

• The Army wants more recruits from L.A. (Los Angeles Times)
Back in 1966, as the US military struggled in an unpopular war, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had the brilliant idea of of lowering the mental and physical requirements for military service as a way of lowering the number of rejected enlistees and increasing the Army’s surplus of infantry men.  The result was something called “Project 100,000,” an organized government program that literally preyed on teenage males in poor communities in the US.  Let’s hope current struggles to meet recruitment quotas don’t go the same way.

• Tensions rise with U.S.-Mexican border fence (USA Today)
Just because the US elected a Black president doesn’t mean the stupid waste of money called the “Border Fence” isn’t still stretching further along the border everyday.  Your president voted for it after all.  As it creeps into the Latino stronghold of El Paso, this article shares some of the social forces it teases.