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” (July 11, 2008)

Summertime in the borderlands comes with the good and the reminders of the not-so-good.  This week saw Barack Obama and John McCain compete over who loves Latinos more; it saw the premiere of the documentary “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez”; and it saw, well, is seeing my dear California burn all over the place.

Here’s some more from the headlines and bylines of Latinolandia…

  • Mexicans are becoming U.S. citizens in growing numbers…I can just hear Pat Buchanan saying “I told you so!” (Los Angeles Times);
  • Coverage of Obama’s and McCain’s speeches to LULAC (Boston Globe);
  • Another professor has nice humanistic things to say about Latinos (San Francisco Chronicle);
  • The U.S. seems ambivalent about immigration because, in fact, they are ambivalent! (Gallup.com);
  • Debate over the cause of the Latino decline in Prince William makes it look like a snapshot of the issues facing us everywhere (Washington Post).

The first and the last stories stand out this week in large measure for the unresolved questions that linger from their twin contexts.  Mexican immigrants–who for various reasons haven’t been as large a share of the new citizen pie as many would like–are becoming U.S. citizens in rising numbers.  This has multiple potential consequences.  First, depending on where many choose to live, they help to reinvigorate the national culture as they present yet another challenge to the ingrained (and often muted) addiction to the notion that “American” is “white.”  Second, they will be a growing constituency of first time voters.  Third, if as the article notes this trend is largely due to the effective campaigns of grassroots organizations and Spanish-language media, then we got some new political power brokers in town.

The last article is an update to the continuing anti-immigrant saga that is Prince William.  This suburb of the D.C. metropolitan area has been a frequent topic on this blog.  This article wonders why the Latino population of the town is in such steep decline, presenting a local debate that uncovers a matrix of forces.   In the end, I can’t help noticing how much the place embodies the most pressing Latino issues nationwide, from the gross statements of prejudicial associations in the first paragraphs to the growing roster of Latino foreclosures.