Presumably all of them were legal residents, since the military does not knowingly accept the undocumented. But some who entered the country illegally do manage to enlist — including soldiers like Lance Cpl. Jose Antonio Gutierrez, a Marine who was one of the first killed in the early hours of the Iraq war in March 2003. He was from Guatemala, and won his American citizenship posthumously.
There is an irony to the Pentagon’s policies toward the undocumented. The military’s ranks and morale have been ruinously sapped by the misadventure in Iraq. To keep the recruiting pipeline filled, it has repeatedly lowered its standards on things like candidates’ aptitude, education and health, and granted “moral waivers” to tens of thousands of recruits with criminal records.
But while the military has been taking a gamble, a la “The Dirty Dozen,” on the potential for ex-convicts — including some violent felons — to redeem themselves, a pool of highly motivated and well-qualified candidates lies out of reach: men and women like Corporal Gutierrez.
The Pentagon has been more progressive about immigration than the rest of the federal government. Many military leaders supported a bill to give a select group of young immigrants — high school graduates who were brought here illegally by their parents, grew up here, had exemplary records and were eager to serve — the chance to enlist and become legalized after two years in uniform.
That was the Dream Act, but it died because Congress, under ferocious pressure from the hard-line right, refused to grant “amnesty” in any form to the blameless children of “illegal aliens.”
The message was clear — Uncle Sam may want you, and you may want Uncle Sam, but you cannot serve. If you are undocumented there is no redemption for you — not even in Iraq.
That’s pretty hard core. It’s a good example of how self-defeating the restrictions orthodoxy can be. But that’s where the national debate is stuck.
- Some comments: