31 July 2005

Join the Service and Become a Citizen

For months now, we have seen article after article stating the recruiting woes of the U.S Armed Forces. But there is a twist – join the U.S. Military and become a U.S. citizen. Simple? The folks at AsiaTimesOnline dot com sure think so in their latest report:
NEW DELHI - It may be fashionable to criticize America for it unilateralist approach toward the global polity, but one aspect remains unchanged - the aspiration to become a bona fide American citizen. For long, Indians, as also people of other nations, have sought out America by any means - H1-B visas for skilled workers, illegal immigrants, green card holders and menial semi-skilled hands at work. There is one more vista - through the American army.

With the US engaged in wars in two regions of the world - Afghanistan where the hunt for Osama and his ilk continues, and Iraq - the drive to enlist recruits is at an all time high. At one level, the route through the army is also very difficult and often a tragic way to become an American citizen, given the high casualties of war, especially in Iraq.

After the US launched the "war on terrorism", US President George W Bush made it easier for foreign-born US residents joining the military to gain full citizenship. Among other aspects, the usual five-year waiting period has been eased by a July 2002 executive order. Petition and fingerprinting fees were waived for service members. Any legal resident who enlists in the military can immediately petition for citizenship, rather than wait the five years required for civilians to start the process.

According to reports, of the 15,000 new US citizens who were naturalized in the week of July 4, hundreds were from the military. Foreign legal residents make up 2% to 3% of the US military, but they are becoming citizens in record numbers. The largest number of foreigners in the US forces is from the Philippines (25 %). According to the Migration Policy Institute, 410 Indians were actively serving the US military in the year 2004.

USA Today newspaper, in a recent report, said that citizenship applications from service members more than doubled in one year to almost 10,000 after Bush's executive order in 2002. In the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, the immigration service has received more than 11,000 naturalization petitions from soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. In fiscal 2004, 7,627 alien soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines took the oath of allegiance. That's nearly 15 times as many as the 518 who became citizens in 2000, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. In the first three-quarters of the current fiscal year, 3,397 service members have been naturalized.

The report adds, "As a nation at war struggles to fill its armed ranks with volunteers, the United States is doing what it has done in every major conflict since the Civil War: it is making it easier for legal resident aliens to become US citizens if they choose to fight."

According to US immigration figures, 73 non-citizens serving in the US armed forces have died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since September 11, 59 posthumous citizenships have been given out. Among them is US Army private Uday Singh, 21, from Chandigarh (a north Indian city known for its laid-back yet modern lifestyle) who was killed in Iraq in December 2004. His cremation in Chandigarh was attended by the head of the US Pacific Command and his remains interred in Arlington, Virginia. Singh, who was eager to become a US citizen, wrote to a close relative from Iraq last November. "I got some more good news. My citizenship process has finally gone through."
Now I may be oversimplifying things here, but isn’t it possible that these folks felt the urge to become citizens after they enlisted? Perhaps the whole citizenship thing happened by “accident" for some. It does happen. Shortly after my father graduated from University of Colorado Medical School, he headed for Fort Lee, New Jersey. It was the late 1940’s and my father was repaying his debt to his Uncle Sam for putting him through med school. Well, just before my father took the oath of office a Second Lieutenant, the clerk asked my father where he was born. My dad said, “Alberta.” “Alberta, as in Canada?” replied the clerk. “Yes” said my dad. Well as long as my dad had his hand in the air swearing to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, they had him take the oath of citizenship, as well. I should post more about my father. Anyway...

If there are people willing to risk their lives in the GWOT in order to become a citizen, then this truly is one hell of a country.

Thanks to The Mudville Gazette for their Open Post.

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