Uncle Sam is looking for a few good immigrants.
You heard right. Stretched thin by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is turning to the foreign-born to offset recruitment shortfalls. Specifically, the military is interested in immigrants with high skills who have been in the country legally on temporary visas for at least two years. Recruits who join could become U.S. citizens in as little as six months. Illegal immigrants need not apply. The initiative will be limited to about 1,000 recruits in the first year, mostly for the U.S. Army. But if it succeeds, Pentagon officials say they will expand it to all branches of the military.
Call it another case of immigrants doing a job that many Americans won’t do. Of course, most enlisted military personnel are U.S. citizens. But in recent years, the military has found it hard to recruit the homegrown. In June 2005, when the Iraq war was in one of its bloodiest phases, there was an article in the New York Times about how American parents were undermining recruiters by prohibiting their kids from joining the military. The Armed Forces often find immigrants more receptive to the pitch.
At the moment, permanent resident immigrants can enlist but temporary immigrants can’t — even though many of the latter easily meet the qualifications. In fact, in a stinging indictment of the quality of the domestic volunteer corps, military recruiters say they expect the temporary immigrants enlisted under the new program to have more education, foreign language ability, and professional experience than many of the Americans who now serve.
This is a fantastic idea that will likely pay dividends for both the military and the recruits. It helps put legal immigrants with temporary visas on a path to U.S. citizenship and lets them put down roots here instead returning to their home country. And it helps reinforce the principle that there is no free lunch in U.S. immigration policy and that — whether we’re talking about legal immigrants joining the military or undocumented immigrants trying to legalize their status — those who benefit should contribute something in return.
And yet still, there is criticism. But it’s not coming from where you might think. One might expect that the left would resist the idea that immigrants are being lured into the military by the promise of citizenship and risk becoming cannon fodder. But there is little of that. Instead, most of the noise is coming from the right, where a nativist fringe is concerned that these immigrants are still loyal to their home country and not the United States.
Not that old song. Those suspicions date back to the late 18th century, when Benjamin Franklin began picking on German immigrants who, Franklin worried, would never adopt the language and customs of the English — and whose loyalty to the fledgling colonies was in doubt. In the 19th century, it was Chinese immigrants who were thought to be resistant to assimilation and thus disloyal. In the 20th century, similar things were said about the Irish, Italians, and Jews. Of course, perhaps the most notorious example of a group having their loyalty called into question didn’t involve immigrants at all, but the U.S.-born sons and daughters of immigrants — Japanese Americans interned during World War II. And now comes the accusation — from organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars — that legal immigrants living in the United States on temporary visas may not be sufficiently patriotic to enlist in the military.
Baloney. Why not say that same thing about permanent legal residents who are now serving in the military? Or U.S. naturalized citizens who are serving but were born in other countries? Besides, the military has long welcomed legal immigrants with permanent green cards and many of these enlistees have gone on to win medals and serve our country with distinction.
In fact, many of these brave individuals never came home. Instead, their parents and spouses received folded flags “on behalf of a grateful nation.” It’s hard to imagine a clearer demonstration of patriotism than giving your life for your country. What does it matter that it was your adopted one?