Also see this article by a Washingon Post reporter arguing that undocumented immigrants and their children should be allowed, or encouraged, to serve in the military, an idea embodied by the DREAM ACT – which is opposed by Somos Raza and other community organizations.
From Eagle Tribune:
LAWRENCE – When Alex Jimenez of Lawrence joined the U.S. Army, he became one of a growing legion of Hispanic men and women committing a future to the armed forces.
In 1985, less than 4 percent of active military members were Hispanic. Today, Hispanics like Jimenez, now missing in Iraq, account for nearly 10 percent of the forces.
Still, the military has not seen the boost in Hispanic population that the general work force has, according to a Department of Defense report. About 16.4 percent of the national work force between the ages of 18 and 44 are Hispanic.
“The military’s increases, on average, have nearly, but not quite, kept pace with the rate of growth of Hispanics in the civilian population during the last 15 years,” according to the 2006 report, which uses data from 2004 to analyze population representation in the military.
“However, (the Department of Defense) has not been able to catch up to the percentages of those of Hispanic origin in the civilian labor force,” the report reads.
To catch up, military recruiters are visiting high schools armed with recruiting materials printed in Spanish. Some recruiters speak Spanish. Others will find interpreters if one is needed. [emphasis added]
Jimenez is a U.S. citizen, born in Flushing, N.Y. But noncitizen, legal immigrants can join the military – and enroll in a service program to work toward citizenship.
Ken Tinnin, a New Hampshire-based spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps, said there are no recruiting quotas based on race.
“All of our qualifications are the same, regardless of race, color or creed,” Tinnin said. “There is no criteria to have ‘X’ number of Hispanics or African-Americans.”
States with large Hispanic populations are fertile territory for recruiters.
“The primary states that pump people into the service, particularly the Marines, are Texas, California, Florida and New York,” said Francisco Urena, an Iraq war veteran and the Veterans Services director for the city of Lawrence.
The Marines have had the greatest success recruiting Hispanics. Nearly 15 percent of Marines are Hispanic, compared to only 6 percent in the U.S. Air Force. Just more than 11 percent of the Army and 9.2 percent of the Navy is Hispanic.
In Iraq, 365 Hispanic soldiers have been killed, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that analyzes Department of Defense data about Iraq casualties. They account for 10.69 percent of the 3,415 U.S. troops killed in Iraq as of May 19.
Like Jimenez, 25, who talked about joining the Army as early as age 7, Urena decided to join the Marines before he was 18.
As he waited to enlist, his recruiter, who was also Hispanic, allowed him to participate in local activities that put him in touch with other likely recruits.
But Urena said his race played no role in his decision to join the military.
“I didn’t feel any different doing it,” he said. “I felt I was an American joining the armed forces. I didn’t think I was joining somebody else’s armed forces.”
Jorge DeJesus of Lawrence was a specialist in the Army from 1977 until 1983, during a time of relative peace internationally. He credited the experience with allowing him to learn new skills, but he said many young Hispanics today look to the armed forces “to pay back college.”
“They help. And that’s basically what they’re joining the Army for right now.”
Bianca Polanco, 18, of Lawrence, said she joined the Marines last year because she was encouraged by the positive character changes she saw in a cousin in the service.
But now that she’s in, and stationed in North Carolina, she is planning to attend college on the military dime to study criminal justice.
Like Urena, Polanco doesn’t consider being a Hispanic in the military to be of note.
“They basically treat everyone the same,” Polanco said. “It’s like they say, once you join the Marines, it’s your own family. It’s your brothers and sisters.”