by Amaury Nora
When it comes to immigration reform, one of the biggest fears many have is that Congress might pass some type of domestic policy that is intended to hurt not only the best interest of the nation, but the interest of immigrants – legal and undocumented – who are trying to navigate through this country. Members of Congress have proposed heightened border security, increased enforcement of immigration laws, and even the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and those who help them.
Widely discussed throughout the media and the blogs is how the current immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate would create a permanent underclass of indentured slave labor by allowing multinational corporations and independent contractors to hire thousands of “guest” workers a year outside the US. However, what is not often discussed or reported is how one of the provisions tucked inside the bill would also benefit the military.
This provision is called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM Act, which would legitimize in-state tuition programs and “provide a pathway to obtain permanent residency” to immigrant children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents as children. In other words, the DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition and automatically qualify them for state-funded student financial aid. As things stand, many undocumented students have not benefited from financial aid because students are required to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application to be considered. However, FAFSA is a federal form and undocumented students are not eligible to receive federal student aid.
Recently, Bryan Bender from the Boston Globe reported how this provision would help boost military recruiting.
A little-noticed provision in the proposed immigration bill would grant instant legal status and ultimately full citizenship to illegal immigrants if they enlist in the US military, an idea the Pentagon and military analysts say would boost the Pentagon’s flagging efforts to find and recruit qualified soldiers.
The reality is that military recruitment is down significantly and there are reports that the Pentagon is wanting to impose a “limited military draft” in order to maintain “its present force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan” according to The First Post. If the bill were to become law, the provision is expected to improve military recruitment numbers by allowing undocumented immigrants to enlist as a means to obtain citizenship. It is evident that current recruitment programs are ineffective .Recently, the Department of Defense announced that the recruitment goals fell short in May and this probably would explain why the military urgently wants to have Congress pass the current immigration reform bill or just the DREAM Act portion of the bill. The Army fell short in May by 7%, short of its goal of 5,500, while the Army National Guard fell 12% short of its goal and the Air National Guard was well below its target by 23%. While the DREAM Act may facilitate access to college for a small percentage of these undocumented students, the promise of legalization may be a large enough incentive for many young Latinas and Latinos to postpone going to college.
When the immigration bill failed to get through Congress earlier this month, Bill Carr, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, told a veterans’ group that he would like to see Congress fast track the DREAM Act so the military could start recruiting undocumented immigrants right away.
“In other words, if you had come across (the border) with your parents, yet you were a minor child and have been in the U.S. school system for a number of years, then you could be eligible to enlist,” he said. “And at the end of that enlistment, then you would be eligible to become a citizen.”
The truth is the US is running out of troops because the war in Iraq has tied down roughly 150,000 US troops continuously for almost four years. Now that the Bush is sending another 30,000 troops to Iraq this only makes the troop shortage worse. Recruitment is so bad it was reported that the Army sent its recruiters to Panama City, FL during Spring Break hoping to entice some young drunk white co-eds into signing their lives away to the Army.
Currently, between 40,000 and 47,000 non-citizens are serving in the military. According to Emilio Gonzalez, director of the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, about 40,000 non-citizens are already serving in the military. Another source, Defense Manpower Data Center, reports there are 35,000 non-citizens are currently serving on active duty in the US Armed Forces, with another 12,000 serving in the Guard and reserves.
However, only legal residents and green card holders were qualified to serve because the executive order President Bush signed 2002 only applied to them. If the current bill were to pass, the Defense Department is hoping to see a major boost because the expansion of the recruiting pool would now include at least 750,000 youths of military age who could immediately enter the path to citizenship in exchange for at least two years of service in the armed forces.
The idea of having foreigners fight our war in Iraq is not new. Neo-conservative Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow, had previously proposed that the military should enlist and actively recruit foreigners from other countries.
The military would do well today to open its ranks not only to legal immigrants but also to illegal ones and, as important, to untold numbers of young men and women who are not here now but would like to come. No doubt many would be willing to serve for some set period in return for one of the worldâ€™s most precious commodities – U.S. citizenship. Open up recruiting stations from Budapest to Bangkok, Cape Town to Cairo, Montreal to Mexico City. Some might deride those who sign up as mercenaries, but these troops would have significantly different motives than the usual soldier of fortune. (Emphases mine)
Given the difficulty many undocumented youths will have paying for their college tuition, along with the pressure to make financial contributions to extended families and coupled with the tendency to adopt uncritical forms of patriotism based on “gratitude,” it would seems the military would benefit if this bill were to become law.
Many people assume that enlisting in the military is a way out of poverty because the military tends to highlight the few veterans who do talk about how their experience in the military and/or the college benefits they received were helpful to them. With few prospects of gaining US citizenship through the usual channels, and with little hope of employment, decent housing and education, risking one’s own life for a glimmer of a chance for a better future clearly holds some attraction. But it does comes with a price. The sad reality is that for most veterans the promises made by the government frequently fail to materialize.
According to the Army Times, over 50,000 unemployed veterans are on the waiting list for the military’s “retraining” program. The Veterans’ Administration estimates that 1/3 of homeless people are vets. It was just recently reported that about one-third of the 9.1 million people covered under the military health care system seek counseling in their first year after returning from war. Yet, the soldiers who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan “are finding it more difficult” to receive counseling because military insurance is cutting payments to therapists.
There are still reports that loved ones are still in harm’s way because many are still without proper armor and are in danger of returning home with a debilitating brain injury, missing legs and/or arms, and/or coming back terribly burned, all because of the roadside bombings that are taking place. However, the military is downplaying these concerns with a “war is hell” mentality. For those who are badly injured, well, that’s just the consequences of war.
The US Military has a long history of targeting people who happen to come from working class families and areas with a large number of minorities, both urban and rural – otherwise known as a “poverty draft.” For some immigrants, the DREAM Act will help them get into college; but for others, it might mean risking their own lives to achieve the American Dream. One thing is certain – if the immigration bill passes, there will be more parents who will lose their children to a war that is illegal, immoral and unjust. More siblings losing their brothers and sisters. And more families mourning over the fresh graves that are being dug daily!