President Bush showed up for a photo-op at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington the other day where he’d come to witness the naturalization ceremony for three U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq. The three were injured in bomb explosions so their active duty status made them eligible for citizenship. The president looked on sanctimoniously as the wounded trio – two from Mexico, one from the Dominican Republic – became Americans.
Fair enough, and good for them. If they’re going to work for the American military, they ought to enjoy the benefits of American citizenship.
Here’s the history: After the September 11th attacks, President Bush signed an executive order creating a fast-track for citizenship for foreigners who joined the U.S. Armed Forces and served on active duty. Non citizens swell the military ranks these days by more than 33,000 troops and military recruiters actively seek foreigners for the services, trolling especially for Mexicans while giving away t-shirts emblazoned with the legend: “Yo Soy el Army” and showing off customized Hum-Vees. With the army struggling to meet recruitment quotas, citizenship is offered as an enticement – an enticement that can kick in if the soldier sees active duty.
There is another Bush policy for U.S. citizenship that does not even require the foreigner submit an application. The president signed an executive order in 2002 making anyone who joins the U.S. military and who is killed in combat eligible for immediate posthumous citizenship. “Hi, mom! I’m a dead American now!”
So in addition to the poverty draft and the stop-loss draft, it is probably appropriate to add the citizenship draft to the list that suggests the all-volunteer army isn’t so volunteer.
While researching my book Mission Rejected, a collection of profiles of U.S. soldiers who oppose the Iraq War, I spent time with veterans of the war so thoroughly disgusted with U.S. policy that they prefer to discard their U.S. citizenship rather than continue to follow orders to fight in Iraq.
An example is Ivan Brobeck, a Marine who served as an infantryman in Iraq and deserted from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina rather than redeploy to the war zone. When we met in Toronto, where he now lives while seeking refugee status in Canada, we talked about his changing identity.
“What are you now?” I asked him. “Are you a Canadian?”
“Not really anything,” was Ivan’s response. “Yeah, I’m not really anything. I’m American, but I’m half El Salvadorian. My mom immigrated to America when she was 20. She came here when she didn’t even speak English. And my dad is half Irish-Italian.”
“So in your heart,” I asked him, “what are you now?”
“In my heart? In my heart I’m not American.” He paused and added a definitive, “No.”
“What are you?” I asked again.
“I don’t know. Something else.”
“To be determined?”
“Yeah, definitely. Definitely not American. If it means I have to conform to what they stand for,” he said about the Bush Administration, “I’m not American because America has lost touch with what they were. The Founding Fathers would definitely be pissed off if they found out what America’s become.”
The value of U.S. citizenship: one more casualty of Bush’s war.