Citizenship for Service

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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