Experts push the use of migrants to bolster the U.S. military
Two national security experts have proposed allowing immigrants into the United States to serve four years in the military in exchange for citizenship.
BY EUNICE MOSCOSO
Cox News Service
WASHINGTON – In the Revolutionary War, thousands of immigrants joined the American quest for independence.
Two centuries later, two prominent national security experts contend that foreign citizens can once again help the United States maintain combat-readiness.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, have proposed allowing thousands of immigrants into the United States to serve for four years in the military in exchange for citizenship. While many legal residents already participate in the armed forces, this program would bring in citizens of other countries with the express purpose of becoming soldiers.
For some, this brings to mind the medieval practice of hiring foreign mercenaries. For others, it cheapens the ideal of being an American and takes advantage of desperate people.
But O'Hanlon says the military needs new personnel and that immigrants could be an ideal solution.
''The Army and Marine Corps are too small and too stressed, even though they've gone to great lengths to . . . recruit,'' he said. “I want to give them some more options to find people.''
O'Hanlon said importing immigrants to be soldiers would solve the military's recruitment problems and provide the armed forces with more translators and experts in other cultures.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched thin U.S. military resources, forcing the Pentagon to rely more heavily on reservists, National Guard troops and multiple deployments. In an effort to meet recruitment goals, the military has boosted cash bonuses and incentives.
O'Hanlon acknowledged that hiring noncitizens is risky and that extensive background checks would have to be done to protect national security, but says that ''we're not living in a perfect world'' and that immigrants traditionally perform well in the military.
The United States currently has more than 40,000 noncitizens serving in the armed forces on active and reserve duty and about 8,000 permanent residents enlist for active duty every year. The rate of naturalization for the immigrant soldiers has increased in recent years because the United States expedited the process and allows citizenship ceremonies to be held overseas for service members.
Margaret Stock, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said a recent change in law has given the Pentagon the authority to bring immigrants to the United States to serve in the military as long as it determines that it is vital to the national interest, but that the Pentagon hasn't chosen such an option.
Maj. Stewart Upton, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said Department of Defense policy now limits enlistments to U.S. citizens and permanent residents and that immigrants who enlist in any branch of the military are offered a path to U.S. citizenship.
Stock said that more opportunities should exist for immigrants to serve, but not as the sole path to citizenship. She also objected to a four-year wait for citizenship because it would delay the ability of some immigrants to perform intelligence-sensitive tasks in the military.
In addition, she said that the military could find more recruits if illegal immigrant students were given a chance at legal residency. Legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would give illegal immigrant children who finish high school a path to citizenship, has stalled in Congress. The measure allows students to eventually attain permanent legal status if they complete two years of college or serve honorably in the military for at least two years.
People on both sides of the U.S. immigration debate objected to O'Hanlon and Boot's idea.
Lisa Navarrette, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, said that allowing immigrants to come to the United States for the sole purpose of serving in the military was ''a deeply offensive notion'' and ''a slap in the face to our troops'' because it implies that Americans are not willing to defend the country.
Meanwhile, Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates lower levels of immigration, said that having a large number of noncitizen soldiers would cause the military to be more reckless.
''If everybody whose child is fighting in the military can't vote or contribute to U.S. elections, that matters a lot,'' he said.