Research Paper: Immigrants Serving in the U.S. Military

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Except for the indigenous Native American population, the United States is truly a country of immigrants. Indeed, most modern Americans can trace their ancestry to the nations of Europe, Asia and Africa and it is reasonable to suggest that the vast majority of U.S. citizens today have ancestors who were immigrants at some point. It is not surprising, then, that the United States has historically turned to this immigrant population in times of war. Because immigrants have by definition intended to permanent relocate from one country to another, it was in the best interests of immigrants seeking permanent residence in the United States to serve in the armed forces because such service represented a fast track to citizenship. It has also been in the best interests of the U.S. armed forces to recruit immigrants for military service because of their proven track record of largely faithful, dedicated and heroic service in times of war. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though, the naturalization waters became slightly more muddied for some immigrants serving in the military. The purpose of this study was to provide a review of the relevant literature to determine the historical and modern contribution and importance of immigrants serving in the U.S. armed forces, including an assessment of the effect of the recent Development, Relief, and Education Act for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the concluding chapter.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Purpose of Study

Importance of Study

Rationale of Study

Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature

Chapter 3: Summary and Conclusions

The Contribution and Importance of Immigrants Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

Chapter 1: Introduction

This study provides a brief history of immigrants and their historic role in serving in the U.S. military, some of the contributions they have made and why immigrants serving in the U.S. military today are critical to the defense of the United States, especially in a time of ongoing wars and conflicts, rising demands of military recruits, foreign language translators and experts in other cultures. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush issued an Executive Order in an apparent effort to facilitate the recruitment of immigrants into the U.S. military. Some authorities, though, suggest that the Executive Order was redundant to existing immigration and naturalization laws and actually made it more difficult for immigrants and their families to become naturalized citizens. Finally, a discussion of the promise of legislation such as the Development, Relief, and Education Act for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the positive impact this legislation would have on immigration reform and military recruitment is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Statement of the Problem

Today, the United States' armed forces are stretched razor thin, with shooting wars being prosecuted in Afghanistan and Iraq, a significant military presence in Western Europe and South Korea, as well as commitments to United Nations peace-keeping operations in far-flung regions of the world. Despite aggressive recruitment efforts by all of the U.S. armed forces, there remains an ongoing need to highly qualified and motivated young people who are willing to make the personal sacrifices that go hand-in-hand with military service. A recent report from Stock (2009) emphasizes that, "From the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, immigrants have made significant contributions to the United States by serving in our military forces. Today, immigrants voluntarily serve in all branches of the U.S. military and are a vital asset to the Department of Defense" (4).

According to Davis (2007), though, the enlistment and expedited naturalization of illegal immigrants serving in the armed forces was already specifically authorized in U.S. law but on July 3, 2002, an Executive Order was issued by President Bush that provided for the "expedited naturalization for aliens and noncitizen nationals serving in an active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States during the period of the war against terrorists of global reach" (quoted in Davis at 32). Pursuant to the provisions of this Executive Order, any immigrant serving in the U.S. armed forces is eligible to apply for expedited citizenship on the first day a uniform is donned (Davis 32). According to Davis, "Not only is this order still in effect, but it has been codified in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2006, that authorizes the enlistment of (1) nationals of the United States; (2) aliens who have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (green card); (3) residents of several former U.S. territories; and (4) any other person 'if the Secretary of Defense determines that such enlistment is vital to the national interest'" (32).

This means that even immigrants who status is illegal can legally serve in the armed forces if the Secretary of Defense approves such service. Because the laws concerning immigrant service in the armed forces are codified, some authorities are questioning the manner in which immigrants who are serving in the military are treated by the U.S. Department of Defense as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For instance, Lieutenant Colonel Margeret Stock, a nationally recognized immigration attorney and professor of military law at the U.S. Military Academy suggests that, "Apparently, nobody at the Pentagon reviewed the [regulations] on immigrants when the war started. If the Pentagon has any immigration attorneys, I haven't met them" (quoted in Davis at 32). In the spirit of "don't ask, don't tell," Stock believes that although the Department of Defense is cognizant of the controlling legislation and the president's Executive Order of July 3, 2002, military leaders are "afraid there would be a political backlash" if the use of immigrant labor for the war were discussed openly" and adds, "By the way, the Pentagon has ALWAYS had the authority to recruit foreigners in wartime. ... The only thing that changed in January 2006 [when Bush signed the NDAA] was that Congress made it HARDER for the Pentagon to recruit foreigners who are not Lawful Permanent Residents. It used to be that ANYONE could join the military in wartime-even undocumented immigrants-but now the Service Secretaries have to find that an undocumented person's enlistment is 'in the vital interest' of the United States" (quoted in Davis at 32). In support of this assertion, Stock points to a section of the 2006 Immigration and Nationalization Law that specifically stipulates that the naturalization of immigrants who serve in the armed forces in war zones such as in Iraq is congruent with the same immigrant naturalizations that took place "during World War I, World War II, Korean hostilities, Vietnam hostilities, [and] other periods of military hostilities" (quoted in Davis at 32). During these periods of American history, citizenship was granted to any immigrant following a minimum of 3 years of honorable service or an otherwise honorable separation from the U.S. armed forces, irrespective of whether the veteran ever resided in the United States (Davis 2007)

Although military service is not an absolute guarantee to becoming a naturalized citizen in the United States today, it does provide immigrants with some advantages. For example, according to Stock (2009), "To recognize their unique contribution, immigrants serving honorably in the military who are not yet U.S. citizens are granted significant advantages in the naturalization process. Over the past eight years, Congress has amended military-related enlistment and naturalization rules to allow expanded benefits for immigrants and their families and encourage recruitment of immigrants into the U.S. Armed Forces. Without the contributions of immigrants, the military could not meet its recruiting goals and could not fill its need for foreign-language translators, interpreters, and cultural experts" (4). In this environment, identifying the respective constituents of the military to determine their contributions and potential for future service represents a timely and valuable enterprise that is directly related to the purpose of this study which is discussed further below.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study was to review the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature to determine the historical and modern contribution and importance of immigrants serving in the U.S. armed forces, including an assessment of the effect of the recent Development, Relief, and Education Act for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Importance of Study

Even prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the debate over immigration reformed loomed large on the American political horizon. In this regard, Bloemraad (2002) notes that following the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (the "Welfare Reform Act") on August 22, 1996, the importance of the legal status of immigrants and the need for U.S. citizenship became particularly pronounced. According to Bloemraad, "In general, the Act mandates that social service benefits only be provided to citizens of the United States, whether native-born or naturalized. Immigrant advocates and social service providers immediately expressed alarm" (193). This alarm was justified given recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates that indicate just slight more than a third (35% of the 26 million… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Immigrants Serving in the U.S. Military.  (2010, April 29).  Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

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"Immigrants Serving in the U.S. Military."  29 April 2010.  Web.  10 December 2019. <>.

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"Immigrants Serving in the U.S. Military."  April 29, 2010.  Accessed December 10, 2019.