Immigrants with permanent residency status have been eligible to serve in the United States military since the Revolutionary War. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports that during the Civil War, twenty percent of the army fielded by the Union was foreign born. That translated to about 1.5 million immigrant soldiers fighting on behalf of the nation against the rebel states who sought to secede in order to preserve their independent state economies, whose wealth was derived from the enslavement of other human beings. World War I, World War II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars, all saw high enlistments of non-citizen soldiers. Enacted October 24, the 1968 Armed Forces Naturalization Act made it possible for any ethnicity of immigrant to become a naturalized U.S. citizen if they served honorably in the military during any conflict. Federal fees and five year residency requirement would be waived.
Immigrant military personnel may not be the largest demographic group in the U.S. military, but they may be the most constant. Military reports cite that in a typical three year enlistment, white citizens fail to complete basic training, fail to fulfill thirty-six month duty obligation or fail to re-enlist at a significantly higher rate than non-citizens. Marine Corps General Peter Pace, who served as the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2005-2007, stated to Congress, “[Immigrant soldiers and marines] are extremely dependable… some 8, 9, or 10 percent fewer immigrants wash out of our initial training programs than do those who are currently citizens. Some ten percent more than those who are currently citizens complete their first initial period of obligated service to the country.” The Center for Naval Analyses supports Pace’s opinion by reporting that “…relative to citizen recruits, non-citizen recruits generally have a stronger attachment to serving the United States, which they now consider to be ‘their country’, and have a better work ethic.”
Usually, naturalization is completed within the first thirty-six months of enlistment. Without it, servicemen and women are unable to re-enlist. Until the immigrant soldier becomes a U.S. citizen, security clearance for certain assignments, as well as overseas deployment, is also restricted. These are just a few of the reasons for expediting the naturalization process. With a diverse military comprised of soldiers representing many languages, cultures, and ethnicities, a broader spectrum of missions can be successfully put forward as the U.S. has a growing global presence. The Pentagon reports that immigrant soldiers are “a potential source of language and cultural skills that are of strategic importance to military operations outside of the U.S.” Increasingly, these recruits are not only immigrant non-citizens, but female.
As birth rates among U.S. citizens continue to drop, the military predicts its growth will come from the ranks of immigrants and their offspring. Considering the stability by which military character is noted among non-citizen recruits and their tendency to re-enlist or become career soldiers, this could be the best thing that could happen for the nation to build a strong military filled with ranks of soldiers that have high character standards, loyalty to the country and an appreciation for what this country stands for. Many immigrants leave behind a country of origin that is unstable, unsafe and void of opportunity. Unlike American born soldiers, this experience can develop a level of commitment in which liberty and freedom is never taken for granted and also worth defending and fighting to preserve. The gringa says to all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, of all genders and ethnicities, “Thank you for your service. Because of you, I have the liberty to do this.”
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