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By Matthew Dodd
Every now and then, I read or hear something that just stops me dead in my tracks. Sometimes I break out in laughter, sometimes I scream out in anguish, and sometimes I break down and feel like crying.
On rare occasions, I find myself with all those reactions. On very rare occasions, those reactions are almost lost in a cacophony of a multitude of rapid-fire involuntary reactions that include pride, relief, anger, frustration, motivation, inspiration and blatant disbelief. An article in The Denver Post on Feb. 24 that the U.S. military does not know the citizenship status of 16,031 active-duty military personnel provided me with my latest "very rare occasion."
In a recent article ("The Illegal Immigration Threat," DefenseWatch, Jan. 14, 2004), I talked about a 19-year old illegal alien who used a bogus green card to enlist in the Army
, and how the Army was going to help facilitate getting him citizen status. (The Army's efforts did result in that soldier being sworn in as a U.S. citizen.) Little did I know at the time that that soldier was literally just the latest tip on a monolithic iceberg.
Let me share with you excerpts from the Denver Post article and my varied reactions to them:
The Denver Post article reported:
"[T]he citizenship of 16,031 members of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines is listed as 'unknown.' That's about one in 100 active-duty military members who might be U.S. citizens, legal immigrants - or just about anybody else." Reaction:
I am stunned, completely dumbfounded. I do not know what is worse: the fact that we have so many "unknowns" serving, or that they are serving despite the fact that we apparently have reasonably accurate statistics about them.
Think about the logic trail for a moment. For each case, someone knew enough about the individual to decide that he or she was an "unknown," someone had to enter the "unknown" data into some sort of database, someone had to be responsible for gathering that data, someone had to need that data for some reason (or else why would we track the data in the first place?), so someone had to see these staggering "unknown" totals, yet nobody apparently cared enough about the potential threat of these "unknowns" in our post-9/11
world until the Denver Post reporter showed up and found out. Continuing:
"U.S. military officials say they are shoring up defenses against illegal immigrants and others who may misrepresent themselves and join the armed services."
If we are "shoring up defenses," that means that we recognize a vulnerability in our systems. Who came up with these systems in the first place? Who had the position, authority, and responsibility for the integrity of those systems? Why was not anything done about a serious problem that has been around for a long, long time? Continuing again:
"The Army has the highest number of unknowns - 9,055. The Navy has 6,531, the Air Force 444, the Marines one. Overall, 1,366,032 U.S. citizens and 35,662 legal immigrants serve in the U.S. military." Reaction:
As a career Marine officer, I am damn proud that the Marine Corps only has one "unknown" (which is one too many) and for the fact that the Corps has met its recruiting goals for over 100 straight months. I am also scared and disgusted to read how the U.S. military has enough "unknowns" to man a standard Marine division. The article goes on:
"The case of an Army private from Mexico, who enlisted using a fake green card and then served in Iraq, suggests some of the unknowns could be illegal immigrants. The military has no set procedure for handling these cases. U.S. congressional leaders are looking into the matter ... Some experts see a security risk. Military officials say they've had few problems so far, but the 9/11 terrorist attacks raised concerns." Reaction:
I believe it is safe to say that at least some of the unknowns are illegal immigrants. The military does have a set procedure for handling illegal and fraudulent enlistments; it is called discharge proceedings. I do not consider myself an expert, and I hope we do not need experts to see a security risk of having undocumented persons in our military ranks. Lastly, someone needs to fire those military officials whose concerns after the 9/11-raised terrorist attacks have resulted in only identifying an unacceptable amount of "unknowns" in our ranks. Then the article notes:
"Military officials check birth certificates, green cards or Social Security numbers to verify whether new recruits are legally in the country, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman ... 'We hope to enhance those in the future, and are looking to do that in coordination with other government agencies,' she said. 'We want to make the process better.' Among new military initiatives: Start checking Social Security numbers given by recruits - as diligent employers sometimes do." Reaction:
How can someone have the guts to say that what we are doing allows us to "verify whether new recruits are legally in the country," when we have over 16,000 "unknown" service members already? I am sure glad to be part of a 21st century transforming military that comes up with such out-of-the-box security ideas like becoming more like diligent civilian employers and actually start checking Social Security numbers given by recruits! Maybe we can also just ask the recruits if they are illegal aliens. But, I wonder if that is a violation of another "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. The article continues:
"Data on citizenship in the military, provided by the Army, comes from September 2003. Military officials were unable to explain why the citizenship of so many is hazy. 'Of the number we have that are unknowns, I'm sure that some are citizens and some may not be citizens,' said Lt. Col. Stan Heath, spokesman for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command ... 'We just don't know' how many may be illegal, Heath said. 'We're trying to clean up the database to make sure we have a good accountability. We are working on it.'Reaction:
He downplayed security worries. 'I haven't heard of any incident where a soldier of unknown origin has done something to be concerned about.'"
Why talk to an Army spokesman about how "unknowns" get into the Army, instead of talking to a Marine spokesman about how "unknowns" do not get into the Marine Corps? If the reporter recognized "unknowns" as an issue that needed to be reported on, why did he choose to focus more on the problem vice the solution? I am sorry, but I now have absolutely no respect for the incompetent U.S. Army Human Resources Command. Lastly, Lt. Col. Heath's complacency about the potential threat posed by undocumented persons in the United States is eerily reminiscent of the mindset that helped permit the 9/11 attacks against our homeland. The article then states:
"Illegal immigrants are common in the United States - the government estimates there are more than 8 million - and institutions struggle to adapt. U.S. law bars employers from knowingly hiring the undocumented ... Yet 'with regard to homeland security and terrorism, it's pretty obvious that this is a critical kind of position. You should want to know the status of who is serving in the military' [said immigration scholar Noah Pickus, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University]." Reaction:
Yeah, I feel real secure knowing there are more than 8 million illegal aliens in my country. Well, Mr. Pickus gets my M.O.T.O. award (Master Of The Obvious) for seeing the connection between illegal aliens and homeland security. In case anyone was wondering, you do not need any advanced degrees from any university, nor should you have to consider the threat to homeland security from illegal aliens as an "emerging issue." The article then reveals:
"U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials defer to the military in handling illegal immigrants. 'If a military branch decides not to prosecute an individual for fraudulent entry, then they are considered eligible' to become citizens, Homeland Security spokesman Chris Bentley said." Reaction:
The law bars employers from knowingly hiring the undocumented, but does it allow employers to continue to keep the undocumented on their payrolls after they discover their illegal status? I learn something new every day: I did not know the military was in the decision-making process for immigration issues. When Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge talks about the need for increased cooperation among federal, state and local agencies to increase our homeland security, I do not think he had envisioned such "helpful" cooperation. The article continues:
"By May, military officials should begin new checks on the immigration status of recruits, said Gaylan Johnson, spokesman for the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command... In the future, recruiters will conduct 'prescreening.' Then other federal authorities will conduct background reviews including electronic cross-checking of names and Social Security numbers with the federal Social Security administration, Johnson said... A better system has been in the works 'for years,' he said. 'It got accelerated after 9/11.' " Reaction:
In my opinion, the "future" Mr. Johnson described should already be history. Yeah, 9/11 really accelerated his "better system." And to think I thought it was slow.
After reading and reflecting on the Denver Post article, I found myself exhausted - mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. The threat of illegal aliens in our country and in our military is serious, and so is the unnecessary risk of literally being stopped dead in our complacent tracks.
Lt. Col. Matthew Dodd USMC is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send Feedback responses to email@example.com. ©2004 DefenseWatch. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.