Sunday, June 03, 2007

Illegal War? Why Not Illegal Immigrants Fighting it?

In today's WaPo Brigid Schult, a paper staff writer, talks about the case of young men like Johnathan, who are in the US illegally, but want to volunteer for the US military. In Johnathan's case, he has lived in the US most of his life and was about to graduate from high school in Virginia. Here is how Schult notes what happened next:

All this past year, Navy and Marine Corps recruiters kept calling Jonathan. The 17-year-old liked what they said to him. And they liked him. He was young and healthy, a star soccer player on his school team. He was fluent in English and Spanish, interested in computers and engineering and about to graduate from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. He wasn't afraid to die for his country, he told them.

A Navy recruiter came to Jonathan's apartment one evening last fall and won his family over with promises that the Navy could help him continue his studies in college -- something financially out of reach for his mother, who works as a babysitter, and father, an electrician and sometime pizza deliveryman.

Out came the recruiter's laptop for the standard military aptitude test. The program first required Jonathan to type in his Social Security number. But there was the catch -- he doesn't have one.

He explained that his parents had brought him to the United States from Ecuador when he was 11, then overstayed their five-year tourist visa. The recruiter closed the laptop and left. Thus ended Jonathan's hopes of a military career. The family, fearing deportation, promptly moved.

A family uproots itself and moves, and a young man who had the potential to serve this country at a time when the military is desperate for such young men is sitting at a Dunkin' Donuts counter wondering what's next in his life.

Is this perhaps one more example of a dirty job Americans don't want going up against fear of a nation overrun by immigrants? A bombs and bullets version of America's dishwashing or fruit picking jobs? If Johnny and Sally won't sign up to go to Iraq anymore, should we let illegal Juan and Juanita go instead? And how do we reward them? With legal status at the end of their service? Or provided posthumously (as we have done in some cases) after they've paid their ultimate price for a country that wouldn't claim them before?

Our military doesn't seem to have much more room to go in terms of lowering their standards. A new recruit doesn't even have to have that HS diploma. Looking for people on both ends of the spectrum - a military that can't set its age limits any lower has set them higher. If you're 42 and interested, hey, you may be what they're looking for. You're not too old. And those medical problems that would have kept you out before? Maybe not so much these days.

As Steven Green's case has shown us, "moral waivers" can allow you to join even if you're a sociopath. He may have raped and murdered a young Iraqi girl, but at least he was a full American citizens. And in the end, isn't that all that matters?


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