Commentary Magazine


Topic: US Armed Forces

Pentagon Makes the Right Call on Immigrant Enlistment

Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.

This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Times notes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.

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Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.

This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Times notes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.

Yet the program was suspended, in large part it seems over security concerns arising from Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting at Fort Hood–even though Hasan was not himself an immigrant and had no connection to this program. Now at long last the Pentagon has decided to open the MAVNI program for another 3,000 recruits over the next two years.

Given our pressing need to enroll more personnel in the military–not to mention other government departments–who speak important languages (such as Dari and Arabic) and are familiar with foreign lands, I would expand the program even further by not limiting it to those who are already in the U.S. on temporary visas. We should open it up to anyone anywhere who speaks English, can demonstrate his or her character and reliability, and desires to become a U.S. citizen by serving in our armed forces. The potential gains are huge, even if there is a small security risk–but as Maj. Hasan proved (as have such notorious traitors as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen) even those born here can pose a security risk.

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