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Jacoby and the Path to Citizenship

He doesn’t get the attention that he deserves because he doesn’t work for one of the big Washington or New York publications, but Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe is one of America’s best conservative columnists. Therefore it is significant that in his column today he endorses an idea I’ve been pushing for a while: letting volunteers without Green Cards or American citizenship sign up to serve in our armed forces.

We already have procedures in place to expedite the citizenship process for permanent residents in uniform. But Jacoby argues that

the ability to earn American citizenship through military service needn’t be limited to legal immigrants. Among the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States are an estimated 750,000 young men and women of military age, many of whom would welcome the opportunity to become US citizens in return for serving in the armed forces.

Expanding the recruitment pool to include them would make it easier for the military to build up its ranks without having to lower its standards. And what better way for illegal immigrants to come “out of the shadows” and assimilate fully into American life than by wearing their adopted country’s uniform in wartime?

Going further, he endorses an idea that Mike O’Hanlon and I have put forward of “opening military service not just to immigrants already here but to would-be immigrants elsewhere.”

This is an idea that raises predictable hackles from nativists, but as we’ve seen in this campaign season, the anti-immigrant lobby, while vocal and well-organized, hardly speaks for a majority of Republicans, much less a majority of Americans–or else John McCain, their bête noire, would never have won the Republican nomination.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has it within his power with the stroke of a pen to waive the Green Card requirement for enlistment. He should do it now. Otherwise the army in particular will have a hard time attracting all the high-quality volunteers that it needs, not only to fill today’s force but also the larger force we need to build for the future.


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