|In the US Army
By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI - It may be fashionable to
criticize America for it unilateralist approach
toward the global polity, but one aspect remains
unchanged - the aspiration to become a bona fide
American citizen. For long, Indians, as also
people of other nations, have sought out America
by any means - H1-B visas for skilled workers,
illegal immigrants, green card holders and menial
semi-skilled hands at work. There is one more
vista - through the American army.
the US engaged in wars in two regions of the world
- Afghanistan where the hunt for Osama and his ilk
continues, and Iraq - the drive to enlist recruits
is at an all time high. At one level, the route
through the army is also very difficult and often
a tragic way to become an American citizen, given
the high casualties of war, especially in Iraq.
After the US launched the "war on
terrorism", US President George W Bush made it
easier for foreign-born US residents joining the
military to gain full citizenship. Among other
aspects, the usual five-year waiting period has
been eased by a July 2002 executive order.
Petition and fingerprinting fees were waived for
service members. Any legal resident who enlists in
the military can immediately petition for
citizenship, rather than wait the five years
required for civilians to start the process.
According to reports, of the 15,000 new US
citizens who were naturalized in the week of July
4, hundreds were from the military. Foreign legal
residents make up 2% to 3% of the US military, but
they are becoming citizens in record numbers. The
largest number of foreigners in the US forces is
from the Philippines (25 %). According to the
Migration Policy Institute, 410 Indians were
actively serving the US military in the year 2004.
USA Today newspaper, in a recent report,
said that citizenship applications from service
members more than doubled in one year to almost
10,000 after Bush's executive order in 2002. In
the first three quarters of the current fiscal
year, the immigration service has received more
than 11,000 naturalization petitions from
soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. In fiscal
2004, 7,627 alien soldiers, sailors, airmen and
Marines took the oath of allegiance. That's nearly
15 times as many as the 518 who became citizens in
2000, according to US Citizenship and Immigration
Services. In the first three-quarters of the
current fiscal year, 3,397 service members have
The report adds, "As a
nation at war struggles to fill its armed ranks
with volunteers, the United States is doing what
it has done in every major conflict since the
Civil War: it is making it easier for legal
resident aliens to become US citizens if they
choose to fight."
According to US
immigration figures, 73 non-citizens serving in
the US armed forces have died in the conflicts in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Since September 11, 59
posthumous citizenships have been given out. Among
them is US Army private Uday Singh, 21, from
Chandigarh (a north Indian city known for its
laid-back yet modern lifestyle) who was killed in
Iraq in December 2004. His cremation in Chandigarh
was attended by the head of the US Pacific Command
and his remains interred in Arlington, Virginia.
Singh, who was eager to become a US citizen, wrote
to a close relative from Iraq last November. "I
got some more good news. My citizenship process
has finally gone through."
The carrot of
citizenship through the army, of course, is a
response to the US administration coming under
increasing pressure over rising casualties in
Iraq. With nations around the world, including
India, refusing to officially deploy troops in
Iraq, various methods have come to light that
encourage people to join the war effort.
Mercenaries make up the second-largest
occupation force in Iraq, outnumbering even the
biggest US ally, Britain. A recent report by a
news agency pegged the number of personnel from
private military firms at more than 15,000 in
Iraq. The role of civil contractors caught
attention when four Blackwater USA employees were
ambushed earlier in the year at Fallujah.
Enlistment of Iraqi policemen, mostly Shi'ites, is
at an all-time high to reduce US casualties, with
the strategy to ensure that US soldiers remain
safe within heavily guarded areas.
had made several attempts to cajole other nations
to join in the troop deployment in Iraq, without
much success, with the London blasts effectively
putting to rest any further hopes. Among the
strong-arm tactics of the past include pegging
construction contracts (estimated at over US$100
billion) in Iraq to troop deployment. In December
2003, the US barred Indian companies from bidding
for a primary share of Iraq reconstruction
contracts. Other countries blocked from bidding
for main contracts included France, Germany,
Russia and Canada, all of whom have opposed the
US-led war against Iraq and refused to send
India has been tough about the
involvement of its citizens in Iraq. In April
2004, the Indian government for security reasons
banned workers from going to Iraq, but it seemed
that the government, as well as US authorities,
were prepared to turn a blind eye to the illegal
transit of Indians through Kuwait or Jordan on
their way to Iraq.
changed quickly when in August last year three
Indian truck drivers illegally operating in Iraq
were kidnapped for ransom and were released only
after protracted negotiations with New Delhi.
After the episode, the government issued
instructions to crack down on recruiting agencies
that were sending Indian workers, whether
ex-servicemen, drivers, cooks or menial hands, to
aid the US troops.
The Middle East has
been a particular attraction to Indians for a long
time. About 1.3 million Indians work in Saudi
Arabia and 100,000 in Kuwait, while some 3 million
Indians are said to be working in the Gulf region,
contributing to the bulk of foreign-money
transactions in the form of inward remittances.
Thousands have returned to India because of
instability in the region.
to move to the West at any cost can be gauged from
the enormous illegal immigration consultancy
machinery that flourishes across the country,
particularly in north Indian states such as Punjab
and Haryana. It is estimated that 300 agencies -
legal and illegal - are situated in the populous
and affluent Chandigarh-Panchkula-Mohali belt
alone, in Punjab. Worldwide, World Bank estimates
put illegal migrants to the US and Europe at half
a million each.
Legal migration of
workers, however, has benefited developed
societies such as the US and Canada. According to
one study, these societies would have struggled
had there been no influx of highly skilled
technical graduates, in the form of software
engineers, nurses, doctors and others such as
electricians, drivers, domestic workers at the
low-end of the job market.
The US, hemmed
by the casualties in Iraq, has offered one more
avenue to ease the pressure, its own as well as
foreign residents who join the war effort. The
price in many cases, though, could be very high.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New
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