Over the decade since the attacks on September 11, the U.S. armed forces have signed more than 70,000 non-citizen recruits, and those recruits have stayed in longer than their citizen counterparts during a time when the military had trouble signing enough recruits and relaxed its standards to include more people.
According to CNA, which studied attrition data from the Defense Manpower Data Center, only 4 percent of non-citizens have been discharged within three months of entering active service, compared to 8.2 percent of ctizen enlistees. After three years, 16 percent of non-citizens have left before completing initial service oblications, while 28 percent of citizens have. And the gap increases at four years, with 32 percent of citizens having been discharged yet only 18 percent of non-citizens. And CNA analysts found that the results do not change when adjusted for age, demographic, or are broken out by branch of service:
“These findings are consistent with the anecdotal evidence we gathered in our interviews of recruiters and non-citizen recruits,” wrote researchers Molly F. McIntosh and Seema Sayala.
“The interviews revealed that, relative to citizen recruits, non-citizen recruits generally have a stronger attachment to serving the United States, which they now consider to be ‘their country,’ and (they) have a better work ethic.”
Because the lower attrition rate would help the military save on recruiting and training costs, the CNA report recommends that the military branches create strategies to recruit more non-citizens, especially as the economy improves and recruiting becomes more difficult. And with falling fertility rates in the U.S., “the only source of net growth in the U.S. recruiting-age population is projected to be immigration,” according to CNA’s report.
Immigrants can enlist if they have legal permanent resident status, the education equialent to a high school diploma, and can speak acceptable English. And in July 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order to make any non-citizen recruit eligible for U.S. citizenship after one day of honorable service during a time of war. Without citizenship, members cannot gain security clearance, limiting the enlisted slots they can fill.
CNA’s statistics underscore what a key role immigrants have in the U.S. military. And while the report did not cover potential effects of the DREAM Act, it highlights how helpful the DREAM Act — which provides a path to lawful residence for undocumented immigrants who serve in the military — would have been for military recruiting by opening up a larger pool of qualified potential applicants. Rather than trying to discourage immigration or barring paths to citizenship for people who want to serve their adopted country, lawmakers and military officials should take this as an opportunitiy to only increase recruitment of immigrants and let them become U.S. citizens.