No citizenship? No worries, Uncle Sam needs you. (Pt.2)

Yesterday, I began discussing the enlistment crisis in the U.S. military and the strategy of targeting Latinos/as to fill those needs.  Today, I continue that discussion.

The Few. The Proud. The Overzealous.

Some branches are quite open about their selective recruitment of Latina/o non-citizens and Latina/os in general. Campaigns such as “Leaders Among Us” and the “Hispanic H2 Tour” do not mask who they are targeting. They push 30-second commercial spots of Spanish-speaking brown folks and have military recruiters attend Latina/o-specific cultural events to sign up new enlistees. These tactics are suggestive of a racial and ethnic pursuit. The story does not end with these campaigns though.

Several incidents reveal the extent to which some recruiters will go to meet enlistment goals. These may be exceptions to the general rule, but because they such reports exist they should be further explored. In 2005, a Marines recruiter was convicted of providing false documents to Latina/o non-citizens in order to enlist them. In another incident, the Associated Press released a story about an Army recruiter crossing the Mexico border. A recruiter had traveled to a Tijuana high school in attempt to enlist students. While these cases don’t describe the entire recruitment efforts pursued by the military, they are indicative of who is being targeted. Nonetheless, more empirical evidence is needed to determine the extent to which these practices persist.

With fewer rights, privileges, and power, Latina/o non-citizens are left with less protection when faced with aggressive recruitment tactics such as those highlight above. For fear of deportation, coercion persuades effortlessly. If a recruiter came to a person’s door and that person did not have legal citizenship, let alone access to the legal system, imagine the leverage this recruiter would possess. In other instances, little coercion is needed. The lure of U.S. citizenship is enough, especially for those in marginalized locations. After dealing with problems like overpopulation, poor paying jobs and few of them, lack of social services and government corruption, many Latina/o non-citizens view spending a few years in Afghani mountains or Iraqi deserts as a viable option.

The politics of Latina/o non-citizens and the military

Many support the idea of non-citizens serving in the military. Among this group the question is not: “Is this ethical?” but “How can it be made most effective?” Much of this debate centers on whether recruiting efforts should be limited only to U.S. territories. Defense policy analyst Max Boot proposes aiding military needs by creating a foreign “Freedom Legion,” as reported by The Christian Science Monitor (Jonsson 2005). This proposal would follow the models of Britain’s Nepalese Ghurkas and France’s Foreign Legion. Boot argues that such a plan would tap into other cultures, help the military meet enlistment needs, and bring great people to the country. But this uncritical assessment does not acknowledge that such a practice would likely exploit disenfranchised populations.

While Boot’s optimism describes turning great people into U.S. citizens, it ignores poverty-stricken situations that would be a driving motivation for many to join. Not only, his position does not acknowledge that such strategies give uncertain promises of citizenship and places an assumed value on life. Because recruiters know how to reach their enlistment goals, the disenfranchised would be vulnerable to attacks by such a “legion of freedom.”

Those supporting non-citizen recruitment counter that it’s not an issue of exploitation, but a sense of loyalty and patriotism to the U.S. (see Avord 2003). Supposedly, military service is a means for Latina/o non-citizens to gain legitimacy in American society. Consider the words of Thomas Donnelly: “From the French involvement in the American Revolution to the iconic Hollywood image of World War II squads filled with Irish, Italians and Jews, Donnelly said immigrants have always been integral members of the military.” (see Davis 2007:Para 22).

Such statements assume that situations of immigrants are alike, but in reality, the many stories of assimilation are different. Unlike the French, Irish, Italians and Jews, Latina/os have not and will not receive the same passage. Their path to American society is one that does not come with the same social privileges and economic access that the aforementioned white ethnics have received.

The Latino/a situation is different. They have had a long-established presence in America predating mass European migrations. Unlike white ethnics, assimilation into American society has been a stratified one. Disparities in nearly every socioeconomic measure available prove this. The passage waiting for many Latina/o non-citizen service members is a path to lower rungs of America’s racialized caste-like system.

Hope on the horizon?

With current occupations having no end in sight, there is no reason to expect the number of Latina/o non-citizen enlistees to decrease. This group finds itself in quite the paradox: the very country they serve is a country filled with immigrant hysteria and anti-Latina/o hostility. This means that Latina/o non-citizens are engaged in a double-front. They fight for a country that they must also defend against – and potentially lose their life for.

~Kasey Henricks, Ph.D. Student, Department of Sociology, Loyola University Chicago


  1. Maria


    Excellent post. More of my immediate family members have joined the armed forces than I care to count–starting really with the Vietnam War to our current wars. In fact, more of my uncles and cousins have joined the services, or been imprisoned for drug offenses in the mass incarceration of people of color that Michelle Alexander describes than have gone to college. Both results of our prison industrial complex and our military industrial complex. Thanks for this excellent analysis on the subject. Is it part of a larger study? If so, when can I have access to share with students?

    • Kasey Henricks Author

      Maria, thanks for the kind words and situating your own personal experience within this form of structural oppression. As of right now, this is all I’ve done with this project. It may culminate into something bigger later on, but i will probably be much later on.

  2. parvenu

    I would like to address your final observations, i.e., ” This means that Latina/o non-citizens are engaged in a double-front. They fight for a country that they must also defend against – and potentially lose their life for.” The supreme irony here is this “movie has been shown before” and the current American Latina/o population doesn’t have a clue of this history. African American soldiers have fought and died in every war this nation has ever experienced during its 235 year history. If potential Latina/o recruits were to use America’s attitude towards these African American soldiers and their two century participation in militarily defending this country as a guideline, they just might change their minds regarding a possible career in the U.S. Military.

    • Kasey Henricks Author

      True. It should be noted, however, that despite the exploitation of African Americans and Latina/os by the military, these groups still see this institution as more meritocratic than most organizations in the private sector. For empirical evidence of this, see Lundquist’s (2008) ASR article “Ethnic and Gender Satisfaction in the Military: The Effect of a Meritocratic Institution.”

      Though the military is far from being free of racism, it does fare better than the civilian world in several areas. To make my point I’ll briefly highlight two examples. Feagin talks about these in the 1st edition of “Racist America,” giving specific focus to the Army. One, the Army “is the most desegregated large institution in U.S. society” (p. 251). And two, more black folk hold officer positions there compared to executive positions in Corporate America and professorial positions in U.S. universities.

      Much more can still be done though! While these examples may seem like progress, we’re still using the deeply racist private sector as comparative reference. That’s like U.S. politicians pointing to how much democracy its citizens enjoy compared to a “3rd” world, tyrannical dictatorship. We can do better than that.


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