With Papers or Not: Immigrants could end up fighting war in Iraq

Undocumented Latinos can’t vote, can’t access many social
benefits, and are in constant risk of deportation, but they soon may
be able to die for President Bush’s war.

2003.09.19

As war drags on, overzealous military recruiters are turning to
Latinos for long-term solutions to the Pentagon’s problems.

A recent Pew study shows that Latinos are underrepresented in the
military when compared with their numbers in the civilian workforce,
yet they are overrepresented in combat units, composing 9.49 percent
of the enlisted personnel but 17.74 percent of those directly
handling guns.

Of the 60,000 immigrants in the U.S. military, about half are non-
U.S. citizens. More than 6,000 Marines are non-U.S. citizens, with
the largest group — 1,452 — from Mexico. At least five Mexican-born
soldiers have been killed in Iraq and several other Latinos have
died, too.

Recruiting non-U.S. citizens

The practice of recruiting non-U.S. citizens is not new. The armed
forces have a long-standing tradition of recruiting soldiers of color
and sending them off to the frontlines. During the Vietnam War,
80,000 Latinos served, incurring about 19 percent of all casualties.
At the time, however, Latinos made up only 4.5 percent of the total
population.

Desperate economic situations in Mexico have left many young people
prey to military recruiters. The rumors abound that if immigrants
volunteer for U.S. military service, they will get automatic
eligibility for U.S. citizenship. Recruiters have even crossed over
into Mexico to look for young people who may have U.S. residency
papers, according to a recent article in The Independent.

The U.S. military has actively pushed schools to give it wider access
to students. The 1996 Solomon Amendment provided for the secretary of
defense to deny federal funding to institutions of higher learning if
they prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus.
Among other things, ROTC targets Latino-serving institutions by
asking them for files of Latino students.

Louis Caldera, the secretary of the Army under President Clinton,
helped set in motion the Hispanic Access Initiative, which, under the
guise of affirmative action, allows ROTC to target Latinos and forces
universities to hand over personal data to recruiters.

Among people ages 18 to 24, Latinos are a prime recruiting market.
They make up 14.3 percent of the nation’s youth, but only about 10
percent of new recruits.

Under a provision written into the recently passed National Defense
Authorization Act, Congress made it mandatory for high schools to
provide military recruiters access to juniors and seniors, including
names, addresses and telephone numbers. If schools do not comply,
they are punishable by law. (Parents have an opt-out option. They can
request a Student Data Release Form for Military Recruitment from
their child’s school and withdraw the student’s name and contact
information from the list provided to recruiters.)

Now they might come in handy

The U.S. military spends between $8,000 and $11,000 to recruit a
single soldier. Many recruiters in the Los Angeles area advocate the
lifting of restrictions on enlisting undocumented Latinos. That would
be the ultimate indignity.

Undocumented Latinos can’t vote, and they can’t access many social
benefits. They are in constant risk of deportation. But they soon may
be able to die for President Bush’s war.


Rodolfo F. Acuña is professor of Chicano studies at California State
University, Northridge.

Author: Rodolfo F. Acuña

News Service: Miami Herald

URL: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/opinion/6808600.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp