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Miguel Perez
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An Elitist Shortcut to Citizenship

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Say you had to make a choice between a young immigrant who is here temporarily (and still holds allegiance to a foreign country) and one who has been here most of his life and considers himself an American. Which one would you trust to defend the United States in battle?

Logically, almost everyone would have to agree that the latter would make a much more trustworthy American service member, even if he came here illegally.

After all, most military-age illegal immigrants probably don't even know any other country. They were brought here by their parents when they were too young to determine their own nationalities or whether they wanted to live their lives as illegal immigrants. Those decisions were made for them. Many of them have grown up to become patriotic Americans, willing but unable to serve in our armed forces.

Yet the U.S. Defense Department, fighting two wars and encountering a shortage of skilled service members, will launch a one-year pilot program to recruit immigrants who are here on temporary work or student visas. Normally, if they want to become U.S. citizens, temporary immigrants have to go through an application process that takes many years, and there's not even a guarantee of success at the end of the process.

But now, if they join the U.S. military, they will be given a shortcut to U.S. citizenship — in as little as six months!

Military officials familiar with the plan told The New York Times that only temporary immigrants will be given this opportunity. Illegal immigrants need not apply.

As a nation, we are so emotionally disturbed over illegal immigration that we are willing to trust our armed forces to new and uncommitted immigrants over those who have strived to become good Americans while being treated like second-class citizens.

Among the 12 million illegal immigrants estimated to be living in this country, there must be tens of thousands of young people who gladly would defend it, especially if joining the armed forces allowed them to shed their "illegal" status.

While noncitizen, green card-carrying legal immigrants have served with distinction in the armed forces for many years — and some 29,000 currently are serving — illegal immigrants are not allowed to fight for the country they live in and love.

"We cannot bend the rules for them," many Americans say. "They are illegal."

Yet we are willing to bend the rules — perhaps even weakening our national security — for immigrants who only have to have been here for two years to qualify.

Although they are beginning with only a pilot program that will recruit up to 1,000 temporary immigrants, the Pentagon plans to expand to as many as 14,000 volunteers per year just for the Army, the Times reported.

That's far above the 8,000 legal immigrants who join the armed forces every year. In fact, just in the Army, the Times reported, 1 in 6 recruits could end up being a foreigner trying to acquire U.S. citizenship.

Although the economic crisis has driven more young Americans to join the military in recent months, an impending surge in troops in Afghanistan undoubtedly will create further pressure on the Pentagon to come up with innovative recruiting methods.

According to the Times, Pentagon officials have been laying the groundwork for this program very carefully because they apparently expect resistance from veterans and other Americans who object to having a military with such a large number of foreign members.

There will be many legitimate questions: What kind of background checks will be conducted on these temporary immigrant recruits? How can we expect true allegiance to the United States from people who still may be faithful to other countries and who may join the U.S. armed forces just to get the citizenship perk?

Yet Pentagon officials argue that this policy makes sense because it will enable them to recruit more skilled service members, especially speakers of foreign languages, as if those languages could not be found in our illegal immigrant communities. They say they also expect to attract recruits with more education and professional expertise than the Americans who are enlisting nowadays, as if homegrown American service members, the best in the world, were suddenly not good enough.

But they go even further than that. Military officials told the Times that they need service members who can speak at least one of 35 languages but that Spanish speakers are not eligible for this program, not even temporary workers who are here legally. Apparently, they already have enough service members who can speak Spanish and they think this allows them to discriminate against Latino immigrants.

Bottom line: This is nothing but an elitist recruitment plan designed to give incredible breaks to some immigrants while completely excluding Latinos, legal or illegal.

When Congress finally grants some sort of amnesty to illegal immigrants, the armed forces will not need temporary immigrants to defend this nation. There are many young illegal immigrants who consider themselves patriotic Americans, not visitors, and they are willing and ready to prove it.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



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