Immigrants in our Armed Forces

Immigrants have been serving in our armed forces since the beginning of our republic. At times, a significant portion of our military was foreign-born. Roughly a quarter of the Union Army during the Civil War was foreign-born. Our military force was 18 percent immigrant in World War I. During World War II, Congress made it easier for immigrants serving in the military to become naturalized citizens.

In 2015, about 40,000 immigrants were serving in our armed forces, and about 5,000 noncitizens enlist each year. Approximately 11 percent of all veterans are either foreign-born, or came from families where at least one parent was an immigrant. About 20 percent of our Medal of Honor winners are immigrants.

Military service has always been a tool for integration, as military service offers equal opportunities for promotion, future education, and skills training.

Willing and Able Recruits Barred from Service

Immigrants will continue to be an important component of the armed forces in the future. With the economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession of the late 2000s, there are more opportunities in civilian markets, and military recruiters are having more difficulty finding eligible young people willing to serve. For a variety of reasons, only 13 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds were eligible to serve in 2015. Of a total target recruitment population of 33.4 million, the Army estimates that just 0.4 percent would be qualified and willing to serve, according to the Army Times.

Despite a more challenging recruitment environment, a large number of potential recruits are kept from enlisting in the military. These are young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, and have grown up here. Many of these individuals would be eligible for the DREAM Act, which provides a path to legal status through military service (as well as education). Congress has failed to pass the measure on several attempts in the last decade, and the bill is again before Congress. Many high-ranking military officials have supported the DREAM Act in the past, as it would add to the pool of potential recruits the military needs. Continue reading “Immigrants in our Armed Forces”