When African American enlistment rates dwindled in the early 1980s, military recruiters shifted their attention to a different underprivileged minority with faster growing numbers: Latinos. Lured initially by cash and education incentives, Latinos are now the targets of an aggressive recruiting scheme that pushes teens into uniform with the promises of citizenship, reports Deborah Davis for In These Times.
One of these teens was Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar, whose family was convinced by a Marine recruiter to move from Tijuana to California so that their son could enlist. Davis recounts how Jesus was recruited at the age of 13 while visiting the States and enlisted with parental permission at 17 after immigrating. Once enrolled in high school, Jesus was pressured by Marine recruiters to transfer to a high school with lower academic standards so he could graduate and enlist sooner. During the first week of the Iraq invasion, Jesus was killed at the age of 20.
Jesus was a part of the military's Delayed Entry Program (DEP), which looks to recruit students in high schools and GED programs. According to Davis, the DEP especially pursues Latinos because the military has commissioned a series of studies, including a Youth Attitude Tracking Survey, that 'found a correlation... between the low educational achievement of Latinos... and rising enlistment rates.' With the help of high-powered marketing firms, Davis reports, the military has long emphasized values such as family, education, and citizenship in order to court Latinos.
Angel Gomez was one of those who wanted to go to college, but like many immigrants, he could not afford tuition and did not qualify for 'citizen-only' scholarships. Looking for a way into the medical field, Gomez found the Marine Corp's promises of citizenship and college too enticing to pass up, according to SF Weekly's Mary Spicuzza. 'I knew he was fighting for a better life,' his mother tells Spicuzza, 'but he wanted to study, and we couldn't pay for it.' Gomez suffered a severe head injury during a nighttime blast outside Ramadi in 2005. Even though he became a citizen shortly after his injury, his hopes of going to college are all but dashed.
According to Davis, some recruiters go beyond selling education and citizenship in their recruiting tactics. She reports that Salvador Garcia, now a senior at Los Angeles' Garfield High School, was once approached by a recruiter asking if anyone in his family needed immigration papers. 'If you need papers,' Garcia says he was told, 'come and fight for us and we can get you some, and then you'll never have to mess with immigration.' Garcia even says that the recruiter offered to help him get his deported father back into the country. 'It's not a problem, we can get him his papers and nobody will ever bother him again,' Garcia explains. In fact, citizenship is only available to noncitizens who become soldiers, not their families
Currently, the military boasts roughly 35,000 'green-card' soldiers who enjoy expedited naturalization requests. Many expect that figure to grow as the military continues to founder in its efforts to attract US citizens that meet minimum standards. Margaret Stock, a professor at West Point, told Spicuzza that obesity, drug problems, and other health issues are among roadblocks that hinder citizen recruitment. Spicuzza shorthands Stock and others' logic: 'Rather than lowering standards to accommodate citizen recruits, she says the armed services should reach out to more noncitizens.'
According to Stock, recruiting noncitizens in exchange for naturalization isn't a new tactic for a military beset by low recruitment numbers. Laws stretching back to World War I, Stock says, rewarded noncitizen soldiers with citizenship after three years of honorable service. With little change in US immigration laws, those like Angel Gomez make citizenship for service look practical. Even immigrant rights activist and director of the National Immigration Project, Dan Kesselbrenner, concedes, 'for some people it's the only way they are ever going to get citizenship.'
Go there >> Illegal Immigrants: Uncle Sam Wants You
Go there, too >> An Army of Uno
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