Sunday, February 15, 2009

Uncle Sam Wants You!

An article in today's NY Times describes the latest Pentagon recruitment effort. The plan is to snag immigrants here on temporary visas, promising them citizenship if they join up. The $625 application fee will be waived, and citizenship will be granted in six months, rather than the decade or so it takes current applicants to actually get their citizenship.

Stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas, offering them the chance to become United States citizens in as little as six months.

Immigrants who are permanent residents, with documents commonly known as green cards, have long been eligible to enlist. But the new effort, for the first time since the Vietnam War, will open the armed forces to temporary immigrants if they have lived in the United States for a minimum of two years, according to military officials familiar with the plan.

Does this mean the Army is going to open up a recruitment center in Oaxaca? Not exactly. What the Army (the only military branch involved in the first year of this pilot program) is looking for is a few good doctors, nurses, and other professionally trained recruits who speak one of a defined list of languages.

The Army’s one-year pilot program will begin in New York City to recruit about 550 temporary immigrants who speak one or more of 35 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Igbo (a tongue spoken in Nigeria), Kurdish, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian and Tamil. Spanish speakers are not eligible. The Army’s program will also include about 300 medical professionals to be recruited nationwide. Recruiting will start after Department of Homeland Security officials update an immigration rule in coming days.

That list of desired languages is an interesting one. Some make sense, given our current wars in Iraq (Arabic, Kurdish) and Afghanistan (Pashto). The other languages, however, are associated with countries where we don't have any military installations, at least not yet. Perhaps Latin America should breathe a sigh of relief at being left off the list. The rest of us, especially in this country, should be scratching our heads nervously.

Now, I don't share the worries of some of the veterans groups who fear that the program will open the door to terrorists sneaking in to subvert our military. As the article points out, they potential recruits have had to go through some pretty extensive background checks to get their temporary visas. And I don't particularly object to the military soliciting foreign born medical professionals for service.

I am uncomfortable, however, by the use of citizenship as a signing bonus. It's as if we are testing the desire of the recruits to become citizens by placing them in harm's way. The article contained a pretty ironic (for the NY Times) quote from an Army recruiter on the issue:

“We’re going to give people the opportunity to be part of the United States who are dying to be part of this country and they weren’t able to before now,” said Sergeant Campos, who was born in the Dominican Republic and became a United States citizen after he joined the Army. [Emphasis added]

Let's hope Sgt. Campos was just using a figure of speech.

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Anonymous JayDenver said...

First lines from Starship Troopers:

Newsreel announcer: Young people from all over the globe are joining up to fight for the future.
Soldier #1: I'm doing my part.
Soldier #2: I'm doing my part.
Soldier #3: I'm doing my part.
Young kid dressed up as a soldier: I'm doing my part too.
[Soldiers laugh]
Newsreel announcer: They're doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world. Service guarantees citizenship.

6:04 AM  

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