A Call to Arms

In the second installment of her column, Borderline, Maggie Tishman discusses how Army recruiters in New York City are getting creative, looking to recruit new citizens to fill the armed-forces gap.

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This is the second installment of the ongoing column Borderline. Writer Maggie Tishman currently studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where her primary focus is Urban Studies. Borderline explores issues concerning immigrants and immigration in the United States.

What do you get when you combine two unpopular wars, a soldier shortage, and plenty of highly educated, skilled temporary immigrants? One extreme recruitment bonus, that’s what.

According to a recent New York Times article, the Department of Homeland Security will update an immigration rule to allow New York City’s Army recruiters to expedite the naturalization process for temporary immigrants who enlist. During a one-year pilot program, the Army hopes to convince about 550 of the Big Apple’s temporary foreign residents to trade in their visas for dog tags and another 300 medical professionals nationwide to do the same.

For immigrants, the new rule will condense what is normally up to a decade of waiting into possibly less than six months, and it will waive the several-hundred-dollar fees they would ordinarily have to pay for naturalization. In turn, the Army recruits must agree to serve for four years and face the revocation of their citizenship should they fail to follow through.

The new policy, in fact a dusted-off version of a Vietnam-era recruitment strategy, extends a policy enacted by Bush in 2002, which fast-tracked citizenship for permanent residents in the armed forces. (Unlike temporary residents, these immigrants have long been eligible to serve in the military.) However, this time, the Army aims to capture more than just manpower. Recruiters expect that temporary immigrants who enlist will have more education, foreign-language skills and professional expertise than most Americans who enlist, helping the military to fill shortages in medical care, language interpretation and field-intelligence analysis.

Thus, recruiters are not being indiscriminate in who they extend the deal to. Eligible immigrants must speak one or more of 35 selected languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Kurdish, Igbo, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian, and Tamil, and have special skills the Army needs. In New York City, where a third of the population is foreign born, and the leading countries of birth for temporary immigrants in the CBSA (core-based statistical area) include Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India and Pakistan, the Army will have their choice of recruits.

Still, some groups are feeling left out. While the language and education requirements are partly for practical purposes, they also conveniently piggyback on the distinctions normally made by immigration ideologues about who constitutes a “good” immigrant. Spanish, for instance, the language most spoken by New York immigrants, is conspicuously missing from the list.

But questions of equal opportunity aside, I worry what the new policy will really mean for temporary immigrants looking for citizenship. The Army promises an easier way to citizenship, but in truth, several years of active duty, complete with the possibility of combat, injury or worse, is far more extreme than any traditional path to citizenship. As early as 2005, 142 non-citizen troops had died in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving me to wonder whether the Army was not removing the many hoops immigrants must jump through only to replace them with a single, high-stakes, flaming one.

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Tags: new york cityimmigration

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