Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Friday, June 6, 2014

Conscription Citizenship

Marquis de La Fayette
Things were simpler in Colonial times, when, using the adage that “an enemy of your enemy is your friend” we found some very able officer material coming to us from European countries who had fought or were still fighting the British.  Most notable of course would be La Fayette, who distinguished himself on several occasions and as a consequence was granted naturalized United States citizenship “to him and his male heirs” before there was a French citizenship.  His burial, by the way, while in France is under soil from the Battle of Bunker Hill.

While it is extremely unlikely that we would have military officers, particularly senior officers coming to us from foreign countries today (most capable officers are from foreign countries who are perceived as potential enemies, if not current ones), we do have an active pool of volunteers willing to enlist for citizenship or enhancement of citizenship.

When I was on my first ship some fifty years ago, the services were just getting used to operating without racial and ethnic discrimination, with some rates closed to non-Caucasians.  I remember being struck by the fact that virtually all the mess rates on the ship were filled by Filipinos, a fact I now realized was due to as much a path to citizenship as to the close bond Filipinos had with the U.S. military from World War II.  The huge Philippine community in Southern California is testimony that many had duty stations in this area.

Nowadays there are fewer opportunities to use military service as a stepping stone to citizenship, with a few specific exceptions: able-bodied men and women under the age of twenty-five, who have established legal residence for two or more years by virtue of a Green card or attendance at school can voluntarily enlist and if qualified, become eligible for citizenship upon completion of their enlisted contract.  If qualified they also could meet the requirement by becoming an officer.

After 9/11 Congress allowed a different opportunity with a program called Military Accessions Vital to National Interests (Mavni) that offered citizenship after serving in the military as language interpreters or in skilled areas of need, one of which was dentistry.  The thinking was that it would provide more security than hiring interpreters from for instance, Afghanistan.  Considering the terrorist attack by an Army Psychologist at Fort Hood, that may not have been entirely well-placed trust.  This law is due to expire in September and, considering our drawback from Afghanistan, may be allowed to expire.

In many respects Mavni is a militarization of the H-1B program, which accelerates citizenship by providing service in skilled fields short of legitimate U.S. citizen volunteers.  Ironically, the H-1B program has morphed into a system for providing educators.  Speaking as a parent of a teacher, the need for educators is likely restricted more by earning capacity than by citizenship.  There was an interesting article in the WSJ recently commenting on the alarming number of days teachers are absent from the classroom (18 per year), a fact that makes curricula static as lesson plans become more review than advancement.

In speaking to an Army Recruiter recently, we agreed that the military should be expanded as a choice to accelerating citizenship.  This makes sense for many reasons.  After four years in the military a prospective citizen would have the skills to be employed and less likely to need social assistance.  They would also be proficient in English and would likely have developed an investment in their newly-adopted country.  After all, isn’t that what happened to La Fayette?

My next post is inspired by a recent series on NPR suggesting the U.S. has lapsed into a practice long considered not only unwise, but illegal: a Debtor’s Prison.  I think you will find it interesting.

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