Efforts to Prevent Immigrants from Serving Our Country in the Military Negatively Impact Our National Security

Having just celebrated Memorial Day, I thought that I would write about immigrants and the military. Once again I write about anti-immigrant policies that hurt all of us. This month it is about discouraging/preventing immigrants from serving in the U.S. military.  Not too long ago but what seems like ages ago, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services honored the service of immigrant soldiers by fast-tracking their naturalization petitions.  This country has valued the military service of immigrants as far back as the War of 1812 when Irish Immigrants boosted military ranks. During World War I, nearly half a million immigrants were drafted – these immigrants were 18% of the U.S. Force. Immigrants are 205 of Medal of Honor recipients.

The contributions of immigrants in the military continued to be welcomed until recent anti-immigrant assaults.  In October of 2017 Trump requested policy changes that created additional barriers for non-citizen (but legal permanent resident) service members. The previous policy of expediting the citizenship applications was revoked. The policy changes added more extensive and time-consuming background checks that applied only to them.

A 2018 article in the Washington Post discussed a preliminary injunction issued by a Federal District Court that that ruled that the Pentagon had not satisfactorily explained why the new screening is necessary. This new screening of immigrants (who were vetted when they immigrated) for the military caused the average wait time for a permanent resident to start basic training to grow to 354 days as opposed to 168 for U.S. citizens.

The anti-immigrant efforts targeting military recruits were effective. In 2016  the Army sent 4600 permanent residents to recruit training but only 513 in 2018. This contributed, in part, to the Army missing its recruiting goal for 2018 despite spending more than $ 200 million on recruitment bonuses.  There were similar drops in immigrant enlistment in the Navy, Marines and Air Force.

This anti-immigrant attitude directed towards potential military recruits has and will continue to negatively impact our national security. With a low unemployment rate combined with low birth rates in the U.S., the only hope we have is with immigrants who tend to be the target age (18-29 years old) for military recruits. By discouraging or preventing immigrants from acting on their desire to serve this country, we not only lose a vital source of young recruits but we also lose the services of recruits with critical language skills and cultural perspectives that strengthen our military. Immigrant soldiers also have far lower attrition rates and are much less likely to leave early in their service, saving critical time and money according to the Center for Naval Analysis.

While researching this article, I came across a Report entitled For the Love of Country which is attached and posted on my website separately.  I highly recommend that you read this to learn more about this topic and to see their recommendations to the White House and Congress to modernize our immigration process and pass reforms that take national security and military readiness into account.

For additional information regarding immigration issues for military veterans, you might like to read this article from the Washington Post. Unfortunately, the immigration issues regarding military veterans are too numerous to be included in one blog.

Linda M Kaplan
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