Non-Citizens Viewed As Important Asset To Armed Forces

Mike Madden, azcentral.com, May 15, 2007

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Lopes, 25, is one of about 69,000 foreign-born troops serving in the military. About 40,000 aren’t citizens. With the armed forces straining to recruit and retain troops to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, noncitizens make up a small but essential pool of potential soldiers, according to government officials and experts.

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A 2005 study by the Center for Naval Analysis found that noncitizens were less likely to drop out of the military shortly after enlisting than citizens were, and were significantly less likely to drop out after three years.

For noncitizens, joining the military offers significant incentives. Under an executive order that President Bush signed shortly after the 9/11 attacks, anyone with one day of active-duty military service is eligible for citizenship.

Even in peacetime, military personnel born outside the U.S. are eligible for citizenship after having a green card for one year—compared to five years for civilians born outside the country. And active-duty military personnel don’t have to pay the hundreds of dollars in fees to become citizens.

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Pentagon officials also help process citizenship applications from active-duty troops.

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The incentives for immigrants to join the military sometimes cause problems. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico had to post a press release in 2003 explaining that undocumented immigrants couldn’t use U.S. military service as a path to citizenship because only citizens and legal permanent residents can enlist.

Critics say the Pentagon risks developing a kind of Foreign Legion by taking in noncitizens, especially if recruiting U.S.-born service members becomes harder as wars drag on and casualties continue to mount.

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Others say immigrants have served the military honorably since the country was founded. Nearly half the Army enlistees in the 1840s were born elsewhere. And since the Civil War, more than 660,000 veterans who enlisted as noncitizens have taken the oath of citizenship.

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