Way Past Time to Recognize the Foreign-Born, those who serve in our Armed Forces


Way Past Time to Recognize the Foreign-Born, those who serve in our Armed Forces

By (American of Irish-German descent) Robert L. Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force

Left, O20050729092414_050728a9049dfficer in Charge of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Moscow goes to Afghanistan to administer the Oath of U.S. Citizenship to newly Naturalized foreign-born troops serving in the U.S. military in Operation Enduring Freedom.


As the immigration debate continues to rage across the nation and in the halls of Congress, this past Veterans Day was an appropriate occasion to set the record straight on what appears to be a stereotype, another myth, of American Nationalism.

It came as a shock to me when a neighbor attending our local college told me that she was doing a research paper on Immigrants that have served in our Armed Forces, because the majority of students and faculty members believed that only American citizens have always served in our military. 

The truth be told our government has gone out of its way to make that stereotype come true. The Bush administration with the cooperation of Congress made a mad dash to grant U.S. Citizenship to as many foreign-born immigrants as possible since September 11th. 

Our Armed Forces has always reflected our society and been a means of citizenship to immigrants coming to our shores. The targeting of immigrants to the U.S. for military recruitment during wartime has a long heritage highlighted by the American Civil War.

Today the military represents only one percent of the U.S. population and immigrants make up about five percent of the Armed Forces.  Following tradition, military recruitment today focuses on the most vulnerable and desperate in our society seeking opportunity when wartime service is unpopular and as an alternative to conscription of American citizens.

Just as the Irish and Germans were exploited to fight for the Union Army during the Civil War, the foreign-born are now exploited to fight for America in the Middle East, so that American born sons and daughters do not have to.

What is unique about this experience compared to previous, including Japanese-Americans that served in the U.S. military during World War II, is that immigrant communities are being selectively targeted for military recruitment in an unpopular war that the nation is not committed to at the same time that there is a heated national anti-immigrant debate. 

The current example of this national inconsistency would be the National Guard Units from Mexican Border States that are largely composed of Hispanic troops. These troops were kept in Iraq while units from other regions and states outside the Southwest composed of less Hispanic troops were deployed to the border for Homeland Security duty.

This raises a question of trust between the Bush Administration, Pentagon, and the Hispanic troops they have deployed to fight a war in the Middle East that is similar to that of distrust between black troops sent to fight in Vietnam from the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement eventually refusing to fight the Vietnamese for white oppressors.

Several questions arise in considering this U.S. military tradition: 

What is the current understanding of the American public about who actually serves in our Armed Forces?             

What is the accurate demographics and citizenship status of those recruited to serve in our military and are these trends subject to change?

What is the significance of immigrants serving in the U.S. military today and future plans to expand recruitment of non-citizens?

Has there been a significant difference between the numbers of Foreign Born recruited for the military during Peacetime vs. Wartime surges in military Recruitment

What is the anticipated American public reaction to immigrants, legal or a few illegal, serving in our military during a growing period of heated anti- immigration debate here in the United States? 

Research leads me to the conclusion that the U.S. pubic in general believes in a stereotype that only American citizens can serve in our military despite the fact that non-U.S. citizens have traditionally served proudly and with honor in our military since the American Revolution. However, ethical and political controversy surrounds the demographics and recruitment of immigrants, including those undocumented.

Unlike previous U.S. government surges to recruit immigrants for military service, today it is embroiled within the national anti-immigration debate making it a divisive issue for all concerned. Those harmed most by the debate are immigrants who want to serve going against family or ethnic community that does not want them to.  Immigrants serving in our military volunteer for diverse reasons but all share one common link, different from American born volunteers – the promise (carrot) of U.S. citizenship in return for risking their lives.

It is common knowledge to anyone intimately familiar with the history of our Armed Forces (and who on balance accepts both the positive and negative aspects of it), and I consider myself a half-decent student of military history, that that both the conscription and recruitment of immigrants has been an American military tradition.

That said, Immigrants to America have also not been too willing to serve when they perceive their community is being exploited, because American-born sons refuse to serve.

The Washington Times reporting on the New York City Draft Riots during our civil war that, “The nation is at this time in a state of Revolution, North, South, East, and West,” the Times reported during the often-violent protests that occurred after Abraham Lincoln issued his March 3, 1863, Enrollment Act of Conscription (the Civil War Draft). Although demonstrations took place in many Northern cities, the riots that broke out in New York City were both the most violent and the most publicized.

The motion picture Gangs of New York comes close to depicting some events surrounding the draft riots and the swift and brutal reaction of the Federal government to stomp them out. These period lithographs that appeared in Northern newspapers provide an accurate view.


SOURCE: The Library of Congress

With a large and powerful Democratic Party operating in the city, a dramatic show of dissent against the war had been long in the making. The state’s popular governor, Democrat Horatio Seymour, openly despised Lincoln and his policies. In addition, the Enrollment Act shocked a population already tired of the two-year-old war. By the time the names of the first draftees were drawn in New York City on July 11, reports about the carnage of Gettysburg had been published in city papers. Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more young men to fight a seemingly endless war frightened even those who supported the Union cause. Moreover, the Enrollment Act contained several exemptions, including the payment of a “commutation fee” that allowed wealthier and more influential citizens to buy their way out of service.

It was this aspect of inequality that Lincoln’s call for more troops to fight what was becoming a very unpopular war in the North, as volunteers left the Union Army when their enlistments were up. The ‘inequality’ of the Draft was the fuse that ignited the riots.

In fact, it is this tendency for the elite in our society to manage to avoid national service that has been the cause both of the failure of effectively using conscription and to a large part contributing to doing more harm to our military than good.

For a detailed look at how the American elite still manages to avoid shared sacrifice in America’s 21st Century Wars see AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from the Military – and How it Hurts Our Country by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer.

Even those like me, though very few in number, who advocate the Draft understand intimately that unless Congress and any President can ensure ‘the American people’ that a draft ‘will not exclude’ the privileged few who can afford to get out of it, conscription to defend our nation will never be socially acceptable .

Another strong argument against the draft today is that more women serve in the Armed Forces than ever before. The Women’s Rights movement and equity demand that if there were a draft females should not be excluded. Our society will accept young women ‘voluntarily’ serving in what is suppose to be non-combatant roles although there is not such thing during a civil war or counter-insurgency like Iraq and Afghanistan.  It can accept equality of women to be able to compete in many areas once dominated by men, but our society is not ‘yet’ ready to draft women to serve in the Armed Forces against their will. 

Perhaps no group was more resentful of these inequities during the civil war, and here I show my own ethnic bias, than the Irish immigrants populating the slums of northeastern cities. Poor and more than a little prejudiced against blacks-with whom they were both unfamiliar and forced to compete with for the lowest-paying jobs-the Irish in New York objected to fighting on their behalf. In most northern American cities of this period the Irish were considered one step above slaves in the class and social structure. The same ‘Irish not welcome, ‘and “Irish need not apply” type signs in ‘American’ businesses and dining facilities that would for a long time plague African-Americans had but one difference as applied to the Irish and a few other recent immigrant arrivals (the Chinese and Japanese in the west). That is the fact that Jim Crow laws kept racism alive and well longer for Blacks than any other ethnic groups except now Hispanics may be feeling the sting in the 21st Century.

On Sunday, June 12, 1863, the names of the draftees drawn the day before by the U.S. Army Provost Marshall were published in New York newspapers. Within hours, groups of irate citizens, many Irish immigrants, banded together across the city. Eventually numbering some 50,000 people, the mob terrorized neighborhoods on the East Side of New York for three days looting scores of stores. Free blacks were the targets of most attacks on citizens; several lynching’s and beatings occurred. In addition, a freedman’s church and orphanage were burned to the ground. Overall, the mob caused more than $1.5 million in damages. The number killed or wounded during the riot is unknown, but estimates range from two dozen to nearly 100. Eventually, President Lincoln deployed veteran combat troops from the Federal Army of the Potomac to restore order; they remained encamped around the city for several weeks.

In the end, the draft rhomesrioters_400_01aised only about 150,000 troops throughout the North, amounting to just one-fifth of the total Union Army. About three-quarters of them were substitutes, paid to take the place of the sons of America’s upper class, or any one who could afford to pay their way out of the draft with a bounty,Most were Irish, German and Italian immigrants who came from slums like this.  Source: The National Archives.

The conscription and voluntary enlistment of recent arrived Immigrants was a highlight of the American Civil War that in fact paved the way for the acceptance of Freed Blacks, and run away slaves, into the Union Army in large numbers under white officers. However, the Civil War was the first of many more to come that immigrants would be welcome to join in our wars even if they were not welcome in our racist society.

The Legacy of Exploiting Immigrants lives on into the 21st Century

In his ‘symbolic’ yet patriotic Presidential Executive Order of July 4th, 2002 granting waivers for 15,000 immigrant U.S. military members to receive expedited U.S. citizenship, President Bush proudly noted that 143,000 non-citizens served the nation during WWI and II, and 31,000 during the Korean war earned U.S. citizenship. Presidents Carter and Clinton followed tradition and signed similar waivers for the foreign born after the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars collectively leading to 100,000 immigrants in our military becoming American citizens.

Despite all that has been written and covered in the media about immigrants that served in our military ‘earning’ citizenship, our government has managed to maintain a ‘stereotype’ in the public eye ‘that only American citizen’s serve in our military.’ A review of the current literature (from federal sources) reveals intentional federal government drive, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to expedite the Naturalization process for immigrants (legal and otherwise) already serving in our military. (Presidential Executive Order, 2002; Fact Sheet for Expedited Naturalization, 2002)

When hostilities spread from a nationally supported war in Afghanistan to a questionable invasion of Iraq, there was a corresponding detailed emphasis on legal assistance for immigrants ‘within the military’ to gain citizenship by the Army Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center. (LTC. Lescoult, Moe, 2004)

As the Iraq War moved into its second year (2005), military recruiters began to miss their quotas as youths desiring to volunteer for a questionable war declined. The Pentagon took a marketing approach and reaction to its problem of falling recruitment by targeting those communities and groups ‘most likely to enlist.’ This was but a business marketing decision by a corporate run Pentagon not intent to target any specific ethnic group.

Hispanics and to a less extent blacks and working class or whites from the farming communities just happen to fit their marketing model of those most likely to ‘volunteer.’

The most comprehensive demographic study since Vietnam (Peachey, Titus, 2005) gives a break down of who is serving and enlisting using both reliable federal government and media sources just as I have.

In fact, it has been written recently by authors one would not consider liberal that the Elite of our nation once again needs to be represented in the burden sharing of an ‘American’ war, because too many are finding better things to do with their lives as those who would have been most vulnerable to a Draft are volunteering anyway in what could be considered a socioeconomic draft.

When the Iraq War dragged into its fourth year and became longer than both the American Civil War and WWII, critics from Immigration Activists groups, and others, began to highlight the targeting of Hispanic communities by Military Recruiters able to speak Spanish.

Growing opposition to a Green Card Draft within the Immigrant community noted that as more Black communities began to resist military recruitment the Pentagon shifted its ‘marketing techniques’ to other minorities. The most valuable attraction for an immigrant to serve the nation is the ability to stay in the United States and be a stepping-stone for their extended family to gain citizenship.  One tactic critics of the Green Card Draft opposed was military recruiters swindling young Green Card holders (even illegal aliens) into either losing their permanent resident status (being deported) or joining the Army or Marines. http://www.metroactive.com/metro/09.19.07/news-0738.html# 

Even colleges have started doing research on the most recent Pentagon interests in targeting of Hispanics. Ironically, it is not only the Southwestern U. S. that has solely taken notice of immigrants being recruited for military service in Iraq. In the mid-West at Northwestern University near Chicago, Illinois, the student newspaper ran a research study to the student body titled, “From campus to combat, military spurs controversy.” It presents detailed research in ethnic composition of today’s military, and the pro and con viewpoints of diverse sides on this aspect of the Immigration debate  down played by our government.

Using statistics, slides, and graphs, based on data obtained from the federal government, this research continues to reflect that white recruits still make up a majority of our volunteers, but be mindful of which racial group still makes up a majority of our population (despite declining birth rates). Demographics show that Hispanics and then Black Americans are increasing within our population in proportion to the racial group that has dominated American society, since the colonial period.

The percentages do not reflect our ‘current’ national ethnic make-up, but in proportion to representation within the nation (1) our military consists of ONLY one percent of the entire American citizenry. (2) The Armed Forces has an ethnic composition that IS NOT proportional to the overall ethnic break down in our nation (regardless if military members are U.S. citizens or not).


It was not so much serving in the U.S. Armed Forces to ‘earn’ American citizenship that bothered critics as much as the scare tactics used to pressure Green Card holders into enlisting. As criticism continued to increase within the Hispanic, and other Immigrant communities, to include Immigrant Activist groups picketing Armed Forces Recruiting Stations, the Bush administration responded the only way it knew how.

Hispanic Activists did not become part of the Peace Movement until the Pentagon began targeting their communities.

Source: The Guerrero Azteca Project http://aztecapp.netrootz.com/web_pages/view_web_page.asp?group=104&page=170

Dead recruit’s father wages campaign against ‘green card Marines’ Prospect of careers, citizenship not worth the danger, he warns


Beginning in 2006, the President had the DOD and his Citizenship and Naturalization Service ‘cooperate’ in expediting and increasing U.S. Citizenship of foreign-born troops serving the nation. The propaganda surge included massive troop Naturalization ceremonies with photo ops. It was an effort to show critics and foreign-born troops the Pentagon had recruited that proactive steps were being taken to deliver on promises of U.S. citizenship.

Immigrant communities increased counter-military recruitment after it became common knowledge within the Immigrant communities that Soldiers and Marines were dying and their survivors getting no survivor benefits, because the trooper was not a U.S. citizen at time of death. This in turn led to the granting of posthumous U.S. citizenship by the Pentagon so that a fallen warriors dependents could receive the same survivor benefits had the military member been a citizen upon death.  


Nearly 600 Troops Reenlist/161 become American citizens in Baghdad on Independence Day 2007.  

During the Multinational Force-Iraq Reenlistment, Naturalization and Independence Day Ceremony July 4 at Camp Victory, Iraq, 588 troops reenlisted and 161 were naturalized as American citizens. To highlight the importance that President Bush placed on the essential need to recruit foreign-born troops, the President himself escorted by Mr. Gonzales, Head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, attended one mass wounded warrior Naturalization ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medial Center prior to the unsanitary conditions scandal.  Either Mr. Gonzales himself or another senior government official presided over massive troop Naturalization ceremonies at Immigration Offices, and preferably military bases both stateside and in Iraq and Afghanistan for added effect.

For the record let me say that I am a strong supporter of immigrants serving in our Armed Forces for one main reason. They have been willing to do something that the majority of people born here support as long as someone else does it and that is defend the nation.

I worked as a Temporary Hire for the Immigration Service, and I was  eventually thrilled to leave it, because I believe our government has given away American citizenship on the cheap. However, my entire two years there I strongly felt that any young man or women who wanted to express their loyalty to our nation without reservation regardless if it be Peacetime or War, that person was going to get my undivided attention and help.

What I do not condone or advocate is that which President Bush (among others) fail to mention when he uses the EXCUSE that the President is not doing anything his predecessors have not done. That is Mr. Bush fails to mention that the Pentagon NEVER goes out of the way to recruit immigrants during Peacetime. Research trends prove that our government only targets the foreign born for military service using the promise of U.S. citizenship as a carrot during WARTIME.

I have a problem with that kind of EXPLOITATION that is no different from our government EXPLOITING our over stretch Armed Forces hiding behind the irony that our Soldiers and Marines let themselves be USED for never ending deployment while the vast majority of young American men and women BORN HERE have more important things to do.  

Table 20. Petitions for Naturalization Filed, Persons Naturalized (to U.S. Citizens),  and Petitions for Naturalization Denied: Fiscal Years 1907 to 2006  from the Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, Department of Homeland Security confirms that prior to each wartime surge in recruitment of the foreign born into our military there is a Peacetime low in recruiting Immigrants.  Below is a chart showing the wartime surges in immigration recruitment for the Gulf War and Invasion of Iraq.


Source: Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2005 (on-line public domain.)

      Such a trend in exploitation of immigrants to fight America’s War speaks volumes about our government’s real motivation, especially during unpopular or questionable wars lacking significant American public support.

       I can no longer condone the targeting of Non-U.S. Citizens for military service using the promise of American citizenship unless our government uses that policy fairly and equally during BOTH Peacetime and Wartime, and it does not.

      Have a Great Veterans Today Day! 

     Bobby Hanafin

     Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired

SOURCES: Primarily Federal Government, Pentagon, and U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Service public domain data and Media Releases.  Bush, George W. 2002. Executive Order. “Expedited Naturalization Executive Order.” July 3. Available online.

Rhem, Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. 2002. “No Mandatory Wait Period for Service Members to Become Citizens.” American Forces Information Service. July 30. Available online.

Lescault, LTC Moe. 2004. “The Thanks of a Grateful Nation: Immigration Reforms for Those Who Serve.” Dialogue Magazine, American Bar Association. Volume 8. Available online.

USCIS Today. 2006. “USCIS Naturalizes New Citizen Soldiers.” March. Available online.

USCIS Today. 2006. “President Bush and Director González Welcome New Citizen American Heroes.” August. Available online.

USCIS Today. 2006. “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation.” December. Available online.

The White House. 2002. “Fact Sheet: Honoring Members of America’s Armed Services.” July 4. Available online

Foreign Born in the Armed Services (Demographics) http://www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?ID=572 

Yo Soy el Army – If you’re an immigrant, at least Uncle Sam wants you http://www.metroactive.com/metro/09.19.07/news-0738.html# 

The Green Card Draft: One Immigrant’s Nightmare is Uncle Sam’s DREAM June 22, 2007 by XicanoPwr From campus to combat, military spurs controversyhttp://observer.medill.northwestern.edu/301-wi06-sec04/05enlistment_targets/01main_story/ 

DOD and immigrants in the Military  http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=43606 

Nearly 600 Troops Reenlist/161 become American citizens in Baghdad on Independence Day 2007. http://img.villagephotos.com/p/2004-11/882181/scr_070704-M-9419K-009a.jpg

Tags  Dream Act, Green Card Draft, Immigration, Immigration Debate, Military Draft, News/Noticias, Política Estados Unidos, Raza, War


Author Details
Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I’ve posted on Veterans Today, I’ve had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I’ve been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I’m now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.
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