In late December 2006, the Bush administration reversed its previous position and agreed to a permanent expansion of the Army and Marine Corps. In reality, the size of the two “ground services” has grown steadily since 2001 when Congress approved a temporary increase of 30,000 to the Army and authorized additional increases to the Army and Marines in 2005 and 2006. The current proposal would make these increases permanent and by 2012 achieve the objective of an active-duty Army of 542,400 and a Marine Corps of 190,000.
In their public statements, Pentagon officials claimed that finding the bodies to reach these goals would not be difficult. Increased bonuses, massive publicity campaigns, and appeals to patriotism would be enough to attract volunteers, they argued.
Lesser-known programs such as the Army GED Plus Enlistment Program in which applicants without high school diplomas are allowed to enlist while they complete a high school equivalency certificate are expected to help (interestingly, the GED Plus Enlistment Program is available only in inner city areas). The Army’s recent fudging of entrance requirements to accept an increased percentage of recruits with minor criminal records may also raise enlistment numbers.
Given the prospect of a prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq, however, the Pentagon’s optimistic predictions about increasing the size of the ground services by making minor adjustments to existing recruiting practices may not pan out. In anticipation of difficult days ahead for recruiters, no sooner had Bush announced his decision than conservative think tanks began to recycle proposals about recruiting foreigners into the U.S. military.
In a recent Boston Globe article, unidentified Army sources reported that Pentagon officials and Congress are investigating “the feasibility of going beyond U.S. borders to recruit soldiers and Marines.” Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign relations cited historical precedents for using foreign troops. Since at least 2005 Boot has been recommending the establishment of “recruiting stations along the U.S.-Mexico border” as a way to solve the problems of military manpower and illegal immigration.
But the fact that several sources in the Globe article, including spokesmen for the Army and the Latino advocacy group National Council for La Raza (NCLR), expressed disagreement with proposals to recruit foreign nationals means that other more feasible options may begin to surface.
A likely scenario is that the Pentagon will focus on one specific sector of the undocumented population–foreign nationals raised and educated in the United States. According to the Urban Institute, every year approximately 60,000 undocumented immigrants or children of immigrants (who have lived in the United States five years or longer) graduate from U.S. high schools. By marketing the military to this group, problems associated with the recruitment of foreigners such as poor English language skills and low educational levels could be alleviated.
So far military recruiters have limited their efforts to the pursuit of citizens and permanent residents (green card holders). It is a little-known fact, however, that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 amended current legal statutes by allowing military service secretaries to waive citizenship and residency requirements “if such Secretary determines that the enlistment of such person is vital to the national interest” (U.S. Code Title 10, Chapter 31, §504: 2006).
Is the DREAM Act the Pentagon’s Dream Too?
If the Pentagon were to decide to exercise its new prerogative and begin to recruit undocumented youth in order to grow the Army and Marines, the most obvious selling point would be permanent residency and eventual citizenship. This in fact is one of the little-known aspects of the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant conditional residency to most undocumented high school graduates and permanent residency in exchange for the successful completion of two years of college or two years of military service.
In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 10, 2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu said: “According to an April 2006 study from the National Immigration Law Center, there are an estimated 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented alien young adults who entered the U.S. at an early age and graduate from high school each year, many of whom are bright, energetic and potentially interested in military service…Provisions of S. 2611, such as the DREAM Act, would provide these young people the opportunity of serving the United States in uniform.”
More recently, Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at West Point told a reporter that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a “highly qualified cohort of young people” without the unknown personal details that would accompany foreign recruits. “They are already going to come vetted by Homeland Security. They will already have graduated from high school,” she said. “They are prime candidates.”
The lure of citizenship is already a tool for recruiting green card holders, especially because of expedited naturalization procedures put in place for military personnel in 2002. In San Diego, for example, recruiters have told permanent residents “I can help you get citizenship” when in fact the military has no input into the final granting or denial of citizenship.
Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, roughly 20% of legal residents in the military who have applied for naturalization since late 2001 have been denied citizenship. This suggests that military service carries no guarantee that permanent residents will be granted the one benefit for which they probably enlisted and for which they may be forced to risk their life.
Other anecdotes recount recruiters threatening that the immigration status of recruits and their family would be affected should the recruit try to back out of an enlistment agreement. More devious recruiters have used the law requiring undocumented youth to register for Selective Service as a way to convince non-English speaking parents that there is obligatory military service in the United States.
The expansion of the recruiting pool to include the undocumented would be a Recruiting Command’s dream and may be the only way for the Pentagon to increase the size of the Army and Marines Corps. A 2006 study by the Migration Policy Institute calculated that passage of the DREAM Act “would immediately make 360,000 unauthorized high school graduates aged 18 to 24 eligible for conditional legal status [and] that about 715,000 unauthorized youth between ages 5 and 17 would become eligible sometime in the future.”
Ironically, nativist and restrictionist groups as well as anti-militarism activists will oppose the recruitment of the undocumented although for completely different reasons. Organizations such as National Council for La Raza (NCLR) that oppose the recruitment of foreigners would most likely support a vehicle for recruiting undocumented graduates from U.S. high schools. In May 2006, NCLR praised the passage of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (Senate Bill 2611) that included a DREAM Act provision.
While the DREAM Act may facilitate access to college for a small percentage of these undocumented students, in many cases other factors will militate against the college option. Given the difficulty undocumented youth have in affording college tuition, the pressure on them to make financial contributions to extended families, and the tendency among many to adopt uncritical forms of patriotism based on “gratitude,” military not college recruiters may be the ones who benefit the most.
As one undocumented student wrote to me:
“I was brought to America [from Mexico] when I was 12. I am 21 now and I am only going to college because in the state of Illinois I pay in-state tuition despite being illegal. I would serve in the military if I was given an opportunity to do so and DIE for America if necessary. Shouldn’t I be able to be legal?”
Military manpower needs, limited economic and educational opportunity, and the desire for social acceptance could transport immigrants and their children to the frontlines of future imperial misadventures such as the quagmire in Iraq.
JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org