The military's apparent solution to rebounding recruitment: legal immigrants

The Pentagon's strategy of recruiting green card holders with the promise of immediate citizenship seems to be successful.

Military recruitment has become a problem for the United States. According to Margaret Stock, retired lieutenant and author of “Immigration Law and the Military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard,” more and more young adults are looking at the military with disinterest, they can’t meet the entrance requirements, and the tense political climate doesn’t help.

“People on the Left, extreme Left, say that people shouldn’t join the military. And they tell immigrants that they’re going to be victims in the military and the military is a terrible place if you’re different at all, and it’s basically a haven for white supremacists. On the right wing, they’re attacking the military for letting people in who aren’t American-born”, she said in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

In this hostile panorama, one piece of good news stands out as a possible solution: legal immigrants. Over the past few months, the Army and the Air Force (a little later) have experimented with a new strategy: expanding recruitment appeals to lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders. By partnering with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, they will ensure that those who successfully complete basic training will be able to be sworn in as U.S. citizens.

Initial results are quite encouraging. For example, since the Air Force launched the initiative three months ago, 14 trainees from Jamaica, Mexico, Kenya, Russia and El Salvador completed basic training and were immediately naturalized upon completion. In addition, according to a source, approximately 100 more recruits are currently in basic training.

“Their desire to become citizens exemplifies their commitment and dedication to the United States,” celebrated Col. John P. O’Dell, 37th Training Wing vice commander, in a statement.

“When we began the partnership with USCIS, we asked all trainees who would be interested in starting their application, and 111 raised their hands. These trainees volunteered to serve a country they aren’t yet citizens of, and now we get to formally recognize them upon their graduation as American Airmen,” he added.

The recruitment problem and Stock’s solution

The program is an initiative of Stock, who the Bush Jr. administration tasked with devising a strategy to increase recruitment in the years following September 11, 2001. Therefore, as early as the beginning of the Obama Administration, she proposed to open the draft to immigrants who did not have a green card since the Department of Defense has the legal authority to draft people without green cards and grant accelerated citizenship during wartime.

Robert Gates, then Secretary of Defense, authorized the pilot program, and Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) was born, adding some 15,000 service members within a few years.

According to Stock, those who did not serve honorably for five years risked losing their citizenship, so these immigrant recruits had “fewer behavioral problems” than native-born Americans and were less likely to drop out of school.

However, the Obama Administration retracted the program to not allow legal immigrants without green cards to join the military. Now, this not-so-new initiative could be the solution they were looking for. “The Biden administration still requires people to have a green card to join the military, but they’re overwhelmed with people who want to join the military and cannot because they don’t have a green card,” the expert added.

“They’re still going to have mission failure because it’s too hard to get a green card. There is a movement in Congress now, which I’m hoping will be successful, to give people green cards if they join the military. That would solve the military’s recruiting problems,” Stock said.