Friday, December 16, 2011

No Papers, No Problem: Uncle Sam Wants You

Synkrisis 1.1

No Papers, No Problem:
Uncle Sam Wants You*

Kasey Henricks
Loyola University Chicago


Ana E. Moreno
University of Illinois at Chicago

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 but a few examples of the current 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) says the word “disenfranchisement” is among the words that most aptly describes why youth enlist, particularly those coming from poor communities and communities of color. Marginalized young people find themselves in unique, vulnerable positions when it comes to recruitment. 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 among the few paths available for upward mobility, while for others, it is the only path.

When some groups are more vulnerable to military recruitment than others, this raises questions about service and sacrifice. Namely, who assumes this responsibility and who does not have to? Segal and Segal (2004) report that 200,000 new enlistees must be enrolled every year for the military to maintain its current size. Nearly all of these recruits recently graduated high school, are either black or Latina/o, have parents with little education, or do not have immediate plans for entering college.

“Being All that You Can Be”
Given a Certain Class, Race, or Ethnicity

When it comes to U.S. militarism some have sacrificed more than others, and they will likely continue to do so. One of the largest-growing groups vulnerable to recruitment campaigns is the Latina/o community. As a whole, this group (along with blacks) is confronted with high levels of poverty, low education attainment, and significant wage gaps compared to whites.

According to recent census data, Latina/o households have nearly a one in five chance of living below a conservatively drawn poverty line (Webster and Bishaw 2007). Further, they are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts. When it comes to education, Latina/os are approximately two and a half times less likely to have graduated from college compared to whites. In terms of annual income, a wage gap of more than $10,000 exists between median Latina/o and white households. The median Latina/o household earns $38,747 per year.

Collectively, these factors have influenced a vast expansion of military enlistment for 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). While this trend is suggestive, it is further worth noting the placement of Latina/os once they are in the military and assigned working positions.

Much like black communities, Latina/os are overrepresented at the lower ends of military’s occupational pyramid (Segal and Segal 2004). They are much more likely to serve in infantry positions, and therefore see combat during times of war and occupation. Though these numbers indicate that Latina/os are increasingly relied upon to perform the dirty work of continued U.S. militarism, it is also worth noting that this group is significantly underrepresented at the higher end of the occupational pyramid. Latina/os are underrepresented nearly threefold in officer positions as they comprise only four present of all officers in the military (Segal and Segal 2004).

No Papers, No Problems:
Uncle Sam Wants You

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. Though conservative narratives, as outlined by Langman (2011), might have you believe Latina/o non-citizens abuse social services and are here to “take ‘Amurkan’ jobs,” the opposite is true for the military. Contrary to being the scapegoat, their contributions yield solutions to military problems. (This is very much a similar situation to Social Security [see Porter 2005]. Latina/o non-citizens are bailing out services from which they will not receive benefits.) While such narratives miscast the role Latina/o non-citizens fill in the U.S. social landscape, policymakers are well-aware of the vital function this group plays for the military.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, provisions in public policy have been strictly carved out for non-citizens and their service in the military. According to Hattiangadi and associates (2005), these provisions are most likely to affect Latina/os. Seven of the top ten birth countries for non-citizen service members are Latin American, with Mexico being home for most. Politicians have pursued crafty and stealthy strategies to take advantage of this large pool of potential recruits.

From its initial passage, the No Child Left Behind Act (see “U.S. Department of Education” N.d.) provided recruiters a helping hand. It required all schools receiving federal funds to release student information to the military, unless parents signed a little-publicized form specifying otherwise. As this policy shows, seemingly nonrelated issues such as education are not nearly as disconnected from military matters as some may think.

Shortly after the passing of NCLB, President George W. Bush (2002) issued an executive order that cleared pathways for non-citizens to enter the military. This order allows for an expedited route to citizenship by declaring non-citizens eligible for naturalization after one day of active-duty service. The 108th Congress (2003) further aided such actions with the passage of National Defense Authorization Act. It reduced the peacetime waiting period from three years to one in effort to streamline the application process to citizenship for non-citizen enlistees.

More recently under the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security (2009) 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 the interests of national security, which are broadly defined.

Taken together, these policies have helped expand the number of non-citizen enlistees. This is corroborated by annual data collected by the DHS (2010). Since 2001, the number of non-citizen service members filing for naturalization, receiving naturalization, or being denied naturalization has increased by more than 700 percent.

It should be noted, however, that the DHS does not aggregate these figures by nationality. Nonetheless, Latina/o non-citizens undoubtedly compose the majority of these numbers given two considerations: the general Latina/o population has surged to compose 11 percent of the military, a threefold increase since 1985, and Latina/o non-citizens are the largest of all non-citizen groups.

Perhaps Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Stock (2009) best summarizes the role of non-citizens in today’s military: “Immigrants serving honorably in the military who are not yet U.S. citizens are granted significant advantages in the naturalization process. 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).

The Few. The Proud. The Overzealous.

Some military branches have been quite open about their aggressive recruitment of Latina/o non-citizens, and Latina/os in general. Campaigns such as “Leaders Among Us” (see Batanga 2010) and the “Hispanic H2 Tour” (see Mariscal 2007) show how some branches are not modest about who they are targeting. They push 30-second commercial spots of Spanish-speaking, brown-skinned people and assign recruiters to attend Latina/o-specific cultural events in hopes of signing enlistees. These tactics are suggestive of a racial and ethnic pursuit, but the story does not end with these campaigns.

Several anecdotal accounts are suggestive of the extent desperate recruiters go to meet enlistment goals. These incidents are likely exceptions to the general rule, but they exist and are substantively important. In 2005, a Marines recruiter was convicted of providing Latina/o non-citizens with fraudulent documents necessary for legal enlistment (see Gillison 2005). In another incident, the Associated Press (2003) released a story about an Army recruiter crossing the Mexico border to a Tijuana high school in attempt to enlist students. These mentioned accounts do not encompass the primary recruitment efforts pursued by the military, but they are indicative of who is being targeted. Nonetheless, more substantiating 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 the aggressive recruitment tactics highlighted above. For fear of deportation, coercion persuades effortlessly. For instance, 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 social 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 military provides answers for many who have few other options.

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

Among many who support non-citizens serving in the military, the question is not if it is ethical but how can it be made most effective. Much of this debate centers on whether recruiting should be limited only to U.S. territories. Max Boot, a defense policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, proposes aiding military needs by creating a foreign “Freedom Legion,” as reported by The Christian Science Monitor (Jonsson 2005). This idea would mirror those of Britain’s Nepalese Ghurkas and France’s Foreign Legion. He argues that such a plan would tap into other cultures, help the military meet enlistment needs, and bring great people to the country.

Boot describes this legion as a well-intentioned idea having mutual benefits for Americans and non-citizens alike. This uncritical assessment, however, does not acknowledge how such a practice would undoubtedly exploit disenfranchised populations. Because the military knows how to reach its recruitment goals, the disenfranchised would be vulnerable to attacks by such a “legion of freedom.” 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. Furthermore, his position does not acknowledge that such strategies give uncertain promises of citizenship and places an assumed value on life.

Those supporting non-citizen recruitment counter that it is not an issue of exploitation, but a sense of loyalty and patriotism to the U.S. (see Avord 2003). Supposedly, it is a means for Latina/o non-citizens to gain legitimacy in American society. Thomas Donnelly argues that it is a rite of passage for immigrants, as they have been integral part of the military since the French involvement in the Revolutionary War (see Davis 2007).

Such a position assumes that situations of immigrants are alike. But the many stories of assimilation are different. Unlike the French, Irish, Italians and Jews, the Latina/o community has not and will not receive a passage of full legitimacy through citizenry (Bonilla-Silva and Mayorga 2011). Their path to American society has been and will continue to be 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 much different. They have had a long established presence in America predating mass European migrations, and unlike white ethnics, assimilation into American society has not been a full one. It has been a stratified one. Disparities in virtually every socioeconomic measure available support such a statement. The passage waiting for many non-citizen Latina/o military service members is a path to lower rungs of America’s racialized caste-like system.

It is further worth mentioning that the French, Irish, Jews and Italians experienced situations in which their interests somewhat overlapped those of the U.S. military. The French assistance in the Revolutionary War can largely be attributed to colonial competition with Britain. During WWII many Irish, Jews and Italians enlistment in the U.S. military could be due to reasons of defending their own people or homeland, not necessarily U.S. patriotism. For them, serving in the U.S. military was also a means of defending themselves. Can the same be said for Latino/a non-citizens? Do Latina/o non-citizen enlistees from places like Mexico, Dominican Republic or El Salvador have interests in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Battlegrounds, At Home and Abroad

With the ever-expanding U.S. military presence in other countries having no end in sight, there is no reason to expect the number of non-citizen Latina/os enlistees to decrease. Politicians, both Democrats and Republicans alike, continue to position the military in complicated situations without providing genuine solutions. Servicemen and women are unfairly being asked to shoulder the burdens chosen by an elite few. Because the military’s growing problem of shrinking numbers will likely exacerbate with time, the current course cannot go on forever.

Latina/o non-citizens find themselves in a vulnerable position. American politicians know this. So do military leaders. It is quite a paradox for those Latina/os already enlisted: the very country they are serving may end up profiling and deporting their own families, especially with more state’s enacting laws like Arizona’s SB 1070. This locates them on battlegrounds that cut two ways. They fight for a country that they must also defend against – and potentially sacrifice their life for.


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* Please direct all correspondence to Kasey Henricks, Loyola University Chicago, Department of Sociology, Coffey Hall 4th Floor, 1032 W. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60660. E-mail:


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