Prolonged occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have created enlistment problems for the U.S. military. Extended tours, increased numbers of these tours, and a crunch to meet enlistment quotas are a few examples of troubles facing the military. In response to this dilemma, politicians and various branches of the military have taken up innovative enlistment practices to fix what could be broken. This scenario has translated into recruitment aimed at specific targets. After all, it’s not just anyone who serves the armed forces.
Who comprises America’s frontline?
Jorge Mariscal (2007) contends that “disenfranchisement” is the most apt word to describe why youth enlist, particularly from communities that are predominantly poor and comprised by people of color. These groups find themselves in unique, vulnerable positions. With few education and career options, less access to the legal system, and even fewer guaranteed social rights, many view the military as a stepping stone to making the best out of a bad situation. For many, it is a path to upward mobility. For some, it is the only path.
Such vulnerability to enlistment raises critical questions about sacrifice for this country. Namely, who has to? As reported by Segal and Segal (2004)[pdf], 200,000 new annual enlistees must be enrolled for the military to maintain its current size. Nearly all these recruits are either black or Latina/o, recent high school graduates, have parents with little education, or do not have immediate plans of entering college.
Being all that you can be given a Latina/o ethnicity
When it comes to U.S. militarism, some sacrifice more than others. One of the largest-growing groups vulnerable to enlistment includes Latina/os. Since 1985, the percentage of Latina/os in the military has nearly tripled – surpassing more than 11 percent of the military (see Lundquist 2008).
It is further worth noting the placement of Latina/os within the military. Much like blacks, they occupy lower statuses. Latina/os are much more likely to occupy infantry positions, and therefore see combat during these times of war and occupation; also, they are underrepresented nearly threefold in officer positions comprising only four percent of all military officers (Segal and Segal 2004)[pdf]. As these trends show, Latina/os are increasingly relied upon to perform the dirty work of U.S. militarism.
While the general Latina/o population faces numerous vulnerabilities in terms of military recruitment, a particular segment of this group faces unique, and perhaps more dire, circumstances.
No citizenship? No worries. Uncle Sam needs you.
Though conservative narratives might have you believe Latina/o non-citizens abuse social services and “take ‘Amurkan’ jobs,” quite the opposite is true. Their contributions yield solutions to military problems. (This is very much a parallel situation to Social Security: Latina/o non-citizens bail out services they will not receive benefits from.) Despite such whitewashed narratives, this group plays a vital role in today’s military. And policymakers are well aware of this.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, policies have been created and revised to enlist non-citizens. Take the No Child Left Behind Act for example. This legislation has extended a helping hand to recruiters by placing certain stipulations on schools receiving federal funds. Such schools are required to release student information to recruiters, unless parents sign a little-known, little-publicized form specifying otherwise.
Shortly after the passing of NCLB, President George W. Bush issued an executive order[pdf], that further opened the borders for non-citizen enlistment. It provides an expedited path to citizenship by declaring non-citizens eligible for naturalization after one day of active-duty service.
Congress joined in the action with the passage of the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act[pdf]. This law reduced the peacetime waiting period from three years to one in effort to streamline the application process to citizenship.
In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security revised several requirements for prospective enlistees, expanding the possibility of who could be recruited. Now, the military can waive requirements of citizenship or resident status if such an enlistment serves broadly defined interests of national security.
Taken together, these policies have helped expand the number of non-citizen enlistees[pdf], as reported by the DHS. Since 2001, the number of non-citizen service members filing for naturalization, receiving naturalization, or being denied naturalization has increased more than 700 percent.
It should be noted, however, that these figures are not broken down by nationality. But according to data reported by the Center for Naval Analysis (2005) [pdf], Latina/o non-citizens undoubtedly comprise most of these numbers. Seven of the top ten birth countries for non-citizen service members are Latin American, with Mexico being home for most.
Perhaps Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Stock (2009)[pdf], best summarizes the current situation:
“Over the past eight years, Congress [and other federal entities have] amended military-related enlistment and naturalization rules … encouraging recruitment of immigrants into the U.S. armed forces. Without the contributions of immigrants, the military could not meet its recruiting goals” (p. 4).
Tomorrow, part two on the vulnerability of Latina/o non-citizens to military recruitment.
~Kasey Henricks, Ph.D. Student, Department of Sociology, Loyola University Chicago (The author wishes to thank Ana Moreno, Stephanie Coward, and Dave Campbell for their critically helpful comments on earlier drafts.)