Army Offers Citizenship for Enlisting

The Army is beginning a pilot program to allow skilled green card holders to enlist and get a fast-track to citizenship, Julia Preston reports on the front page of today’s NYT.

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.

Recruiters expect that the temporary immigrants will have more education, foreign language skills and professional expertise than many Americans who enlist, helping the military to fill shortages in medical care, language interpretation and field intelligence analysis.

[…]

The program will begin small — limited to 1,000 enlistees nationwide in its first year, most for the Army and some for other branches. If the pilot program succeeds as Pentagon officials anticipate, it will expand for all branches of the military. For the Army, it could eventually provide as many as 14,000 volunteers a year, or about one in six recruits.

This makes sense on a lot of levels.  It provides skilled labor to the military services and rewards those who have served their new country with citizenship, which seems perfectly just.

I worry somewhat, though, about turning the United States military into a foreign legion with mercenary characteristics.  We’re already managed to divorce citizenship and service and war and pain for most Americans; furthering those trends is not something I look forward to.

One wonders whether the military will take the place the schools once did of providing the heat to the melting pot, naturally assimilating new immigrants.  It may be that the end result is that we’ll create a large class of soldier-citizens through this process.  Of course that, too, comes with the risk of further alienating the military from the society on a values level.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Eneils Bailey says:

    Of course that, too, comes with the risk of further alienating the military from the society on a values level.

    I have no problem with legal aliens coming into this country, fighting for values set forth in our Constitution. Grant them citizenship.

    I worry somewhat, though, about turning the United States military into a foreign legion with mercenary characteristics. We’re already managed to divorce citizenship and service and war and pain for most Americans; furthering those trends is not something I look forward to.

    The US Military will never become a foreign legion. The reward of citizenship is what they seek in the end.

    For American citizens, divorcing themselves from citizenship, service, war, and pain is not much better than the destitution they suffer walking and trying to survive on the criminally infested streets of the home town and their neighborhoods.

    Listen, life ain’t perfect, life ain’t fair, simply roaming the streets does not guarantee you three squares a day and a nurse nanny at night; home is not always good, and let us face it; you may not be the smartest son-of-a-bitch in the world.
    The US guarantees no one equality, only the pursuit of life, liberty and justice.

    Sometimes, the military, teaches us more about individual responsibility than prison.

  2. Web Smith says:

    Why would they recruit non-Americans into the military, you have to ask. Do you think that these troops’ country loyalty will actually change?

  3. Web Smith,

    I would suggest you study the history of immigrants in the US military.

    James,
    I see the parallels I think you do with the Roman empire and military service by foreigners. I agree that the “melting pot” is part of what will mitigate this. At the same time , there is a natural limit to the size of this “hole”. Even if the entire military were to be exclusively foreigners seeking citizenship, the country would well be able to handle the influx.
    As far as the military having a major difference in world view from the rest of the country, we are pretty close to that already.

  4. William d'Inger says:

    All the way back in 1963, I was in a unit assigned to a “cold war” mission. We were required to leave behind all the men who were foreign nationals all of whom were seeking to reduce the time necessary to gain U.S. citizenship. To our absolute amazement, the number was (just slightly) over ten percent, so it is not a new idea.

    What worries me is the six month track is way to fast. I’d require three to four years minimum.

  5. One quibble.

    Legal Permanent Residents (i.e., “green card holders”) can already enlist. And since 7/2/2002 their waiting time to be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship has been nil.

    What this program does is allow certain categories and qualified holders of non-immigrant visas to enlist. These people are not permanent residents and would otherwise, eventually, have to return to their home countries, taking their valuable skills home with them.

  6. David Harris says:

    Am I watching Starship Troopers here? “Service Guarantees Citizenship.”

    Now go kill some bugs, immigrants!

  7. I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.

  8. @William,

    During peacetime, a green card holder (i.e., Legal Permanent Resident) normally needs seven years in that status in order to apply for citizenship. For those in military service, that period is reduced to just three years.

    During wartime, presidents have reduced the three years to no waiting period. This part is not new.

    What is new (at least recently, since this was done, I think, during previous conflicts as late as Vietnam) is letting some non-green card holders enlist. They have to have certain skills and only be from certain categories of visa holders; not illegal aliens.

  9. Eneils Bailey says:

    Am I watching Starship Troopers here? “Service Guarantees Citizenship.”

    Now go kill some bugs, immigrants!

    While you are just talking aloud here…
    No,…
    Realize, you are just pissing in your ears.