NATIONAL NEWS

Join the military, become a US citizen: Uncle Sam wants you and vous and tu

Jun 11, 2023, 4:23 AM

Airman 1st Class D'elbrah Assamoi, from Cote D'Ivoire, signs her U.S. certificate of citizenship af...

Airman 1st Class D'elbrah Assamoi, from Cote D'Ivoire, signs her U.S. certificate of citizenship after the Basic Military Training Coin Ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, in San Antonio, April 26, 2023. The U.S. military has struggled to overcome recruiting shortfalls and as a way to address that problem, it's stepping up efforts to sign up immigrants, offering a fast track to American citizenship to those who join the armed services. The Army and the Air Force have bolstered their marketing to entice legal residents to enlist. (Vanessa R. Adame/U.S. Air Force via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Vanessa R. Adame/U.S. Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Esmita Spudes Bidari was a young girl in Nepal, she dreamed of being in the military, but that wasn’t a real option in her country.

Last week, she raised her right hand and took the oath to join the U.S. Army Reserves, thanks in part to a recruiter in Dallas who also is Nepalese and reached out to her through an online group.

Bidari, who heads to basic training in August, is just the latest in a growing number of legal migrants enlisting in the U.S. military as it more aggressively seeks out immigrants, offering a fast track to citizenship to those who sign up.

Struggling to overcome recruiting shortfalls, the Army and the Air Force have bolstered their marketing to entice legal residents to enlist, putting out pamphlets, working social media and broadening their outreach, particularly in inner cities. One key element is the use of recruiters with similar backgrounds to these potential recruits.

“It is one thing to hear about the military from locals here, but it is something else when it’s from your fellow brother, from the country you’re from,” said Bidari, who was contacted by Army Staff Sgt. Kalden Lama, the Dallas recruiter, on a Facebook group that helps Nepalese people in America connect with one another. “That brother was in the group and he was recruiting and he told me about the military.”

The military has had success in recruiting legal immigrants, particularly among those seeking a job, education benefits and training as well as a quick route to becoming an American citizen. But they also require additional security screening and more help filling out forms, particularly those who are less proficient in English.

Both the Army and the Air Force say they will not meet their recruiting goals this year, and the Navy also expects to fall short. Pulling more from the legal immigrant population may not provide large numbers, but any small boosts will help. The Marine Corp is the only service on pace to meet its goal.

The shortfalls have led to a wide range of physical, mental and character requirements to join.

“We have large populations of legal U.S. residents who are exceptionally patriotic, they’re exceptionally grateful for the opportunities that this country has provided,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, head of the service’s recruiting command.

The biggest challenges have been identifying geographic pockets of immigrant populations, finding ways to reach them and helping any of those interested navigate the complex military recruiting applications and procedures.

Last October, the Army reestablished a program for legal permanent residents to apply for accelerated naturalization once they get to basic training. Recruiters began to reach out on social media, using short videos in various languages to target the top 10 countries that recruits had come from during the previous year.

The Air Force effort began this year, and the first group of 14 graduated from basic training and were sworn in as new citizens in April. They included recruits from Cameroon, Jamaica, Kenya, the Philippines, Russia and South Africa. As of mid-May there were about 100 in basic training who had begun the citizenship process and about 40 who had completed it.

Thomas said the program required changes to Air Force policy, coordination with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and a careful screening process to ensure there are no security risks.

“We have to take exceptional measures to be able to thoroughly vet and go through the security clearance investigation,” he said, adding that in many cases the immigrants are not immediately put in jobs that require top secret clearance.

Under the new program, recruits are quickly enrolled in the citizenship system and when they start basic training, an expedited process kicks off, including all required paperwork and testing. By the time Air Force recruits finish their seven weeks of training, the process is complete and they are sworn in as American citizens.

The first group of 14 included several who are seeking various medical jobs, while another wants to be an air transportation specialist. Thomas said Airman 1st Class Natalia Laziuk, 31, emigrated from Russia nine years ago, has dreamed of being a U.S. citizen since she was 11, and learned about the military by watching American movies and television.

“Talking to this young airman, she essentially said, ‘I just wanted to be useful to my country,’” he said. “And that’s a story that we see played over and over and over again. I’ve talked to a number of these folks around the country. They’re hungry to serve.”

For Bidari, who arrived in the U.S. in 2016 to attend college, the fast track to citizenship was important because it will make it easier for her to travel and bring her parents to the United States to visit. Speaking in a call from Chicago just a day after she was sworn in, she said she enlisted for six years and hopes that her future citizenship will help her become an officer.

In Chicago earlier this year, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth heard from a number of recruiters about the increased outreach to immigrant communities and how it helped them meet their numbers. In the 2022 budget year, they said, the Chicago recruiting battalion enlisted 70 legal permanent residents and already this year they have enlisted 62.

More broadly across the Army, close to 2,900 enlisted during the first half of this budget year, compared with about 2,200 during the same period the previous year. The largest numbers are from Jamaica, with 384, followed by Mexico, the Philippines and Haiti, but many are from Nepal, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“As a little girl, looking at the soldiers, I always had admiration for them,” said Bidari, recalling British troops in Nepal. “Yesterday, when I was able to take that oath … I don’t think I have words to really explain how I was feeling. When they said, ‘Welcome future soldier,’ I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is happening.’”

National News

FILE - Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker speaks at at Philadelphia International Airport, Feb. 16,...

Associated Press

Thousands of Philadelphia city workers are back in the office full time after judge rejects lawsuit

Thousands of Philadelphia city employees are back in their offices full time after a judge rejected a union’s request to block Mayor Cherelle Parker’s requirement that they return. District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had sued the city, claiming the mandate violates its contract and would harm city […]

7 minutes ago

Binaifer Nowrojee, the president of the Open Society Foundations, poses for a portrait in her organ...

Associated Press

Soros’ Open Society Foundations say their restructuring is complete and pledge $400M for green jobs

NEW YORK (AP) — Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic organizations that billionaire investor George Soros has built up since the 1970s, revealed its first new major commitment on Tuesday after a years-long internal reorganization, pledging $400 million over eight years to support green economic development. In some of her first public remarks since she was […]

32 minutes ago

FILE - People shop at Taikoo Li Sanlitun shopping center in Beijing, China, on July 2, 2024. On Tue...

Associated Press

IMF’s economic view: Brighter outlook for China and India but tepid global growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund is upgrading its economic outlook this year for China, India and Europe while modestly lowering expectations for the United States and Japan. But it says worldwide progress against accelerating prices has been slowed by stickier-than-expected inflation for services, from airline travel to restaurant meals. Overall, the IMF said […]

32 minutes ago

FILE - A holiday sale sign is displayed at a retail store in Rosemont, Ill., June 25, 2024. On Tues...

Associated Press

Retail sales unchanged in June from May as inflation moderates

NEW YORK (AP) — Shoppers paused their spending June from May as they wrestle with moderating inflation but still high interest rates that have made buying anything on credit more expensive. Retail sales were unchanged in June from May, which was better than economists expected, after being revised at up 0.3% in May, according to […]

49 minutes ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives on the first day of the Rep...

Associated Press

2024 Election Latest: With Trump as its official presidential nominee, RNC enters second day

The Republican National Convention heads into its second day — now with Donald Trump officially as its presidential nominee. Trump energized the crowd Monday night by entering the arena with a bandage on his right ear after being injured during an assassination attempt Saturday. Expect more speakers Tuesday to mention what they described as the […]

2 hours ago

President Joe Biden speaks with reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Monday, July 15, 2024. as...

Associated Press

The Democratic National Committee says it’s investing $15 million in 7 swing state parties

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are trying to offer political counterprograming to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, announcing $15 million to fund campaign operations in seven key swing states — even as some in the party have urged President Joe Biden to bow out of November’s election. The Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday that it […]

3 hours ago

Join the military, become a US citizen: Uncle Sam wants you and vous and tu