- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The military is undertaking a small pilot program that will allow skilled temporary immigrants who have lived in the United States for two years to join the armed forces and become U.S. citizens in as little as six months. Permanent residents - those who have so-called green cards - have for a long time been able to enlist, and about 8,000 do so annually; this initiative, for 1,000 enlistees in the first year, opens up the military to temporary legal immigrants with special language skills, knowledge of certain cultures, professional expertise and education that will help cure shortages in areas such as language interpretation, field intelligence analysis and medical care. This small program, which if successful could lead to as many as 14,000 volunteers per year (about one in six recruits), would seem like a win-win for the military and patriotic immigrants, but it has provoked a storm of protests from some military personnel and veterans.

The complaints include concern about a large number of immigrants being in the armed forces, their allegiance to the United States, and the possibility of infiltration of the ranks by enemies. We find the concerns overwrought. There are about 29,000 foreign-born men and women now serving in the U.S. military, and their contribution to the nation’s security has been great. This program will hardly lead to the Hessian-ization of the military, nor would the highly talented personnel be mercenaries in any way. They are people seeking to become Americans and willing to serve the U.S., not take advantage of its hospitality for personal aggrandizement. The normal background checks, security screenings, and requirements such as having no criminal record would apply.

Obviously, few native-born Americans learn and speak Kurdish, Pashto, Arabic, Tamil and others on the list of 35 languages where help is needed. Too few native-born medical specialists join the military (despite attractive incentives). And the educational level of native-born Americans who join the military is dropping (only 82 percent of Army recruits last year had high school diplomas).

The unfortunate thing is not that foreign-born men and women are willing to serve the United States of America, endure military life, and put their lives on the line for a country they hope to be a citizen of. What is unfortunate is that so many native-born men and women are unwilling to serve the United States of America in the military, endure that life, and put their lives on the line for the country that they are citizens of. Those who are willing to serve - native-born or foreign-born - deserve thanks, praise and encouragement.

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