Latino Soldiers on the Front Lines

October 12th, 2003 - by admin

by Bill Berkowitz / WorkingForChange –

US (October 10, 2003) — When Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, a 28 year-old Guatemalan orphan who came to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, was killed on March 21, he became one of the first US soldiers to die in combat in Iraq.

Gutierrez, who had crossed the border illegally from Mexico at age 14 and later received legal resident status, went to high school and college in California. He joined the Marines in March 2002, because “he wanted to give back a little bit to his adopted country,” his foster mother, Nora Mosquera, said.

Cpl. Jose Garibay emigrated from Mexico as a 2-month-old and, according to a Reuters report, he “led a typical American teen’s life in Costa Mesa, California before joining the Marines.” He was killed on March 23 in a firefight near the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya along with six other members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

Bush Promises ‘Posthoumous Citizenship
As permanent US residents, or so-called “Green Card” holders, Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez and Cpl. Jose Garibay were granted citizenship under President George W. Bush’s July 2002 executive order that allows family of military personnel killed in combat to apply for posthumous citizenship. According to Francisco Arcaute of the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the citizenship is “primarily symbolic” as there are no benefits for relatives go along with it.

Military Takes Aim at Latinos
As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the US military is “turning increasingly to Latinos — including tens of thousands of non-citizen immigrants — to do the fighting and dying on its behalf,” Andrew Gumbel reported recently in The Independent, a London-based newspaper.

The military views Latinos as “by far the most promising ethnic group for recruitment, because their numbers are growing rapidly in the US and they include a plentiful supply of low-income men of military age with few other job or educational prospects,” Gumbel writes.

The goal is “to boost the Latino numbers in the military from roughly 10 per cent to as much as 22 per cent,” according to John McLaurin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Human Resources, who spoke recently about the size of the “Hispanic … recruiting market.”

The Latino recruiting market is huge because “Mexican American or Chicano/a youth — that is, the children of families who have been in the US for many decades, if not centuries — continue to have a relatively limited range of life opportunities,” Professor Jorge Mariscal writes in the March/April 2003 issue of the anti-militarism newsletter Draft Notices. With “more than one-third of all Latinos under 18 years of age” and “a high school dropout rate around 40% and high rates of incarceration (in California, Latinos are 36% of the prison population but only 32% of the state population), many Latino youth see little hope for the future.”

Dr. Jorge Mariscal of UC San Diego is a Vietnam veteran and a member of a counter-recruitment organization called the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO), a group of activists and veterans who go into schools and talk with students about the realities of military life. He pointed out in a recent telephone interview that since “the cost of a college education in California is rising sharply” and attending even community college is becoming out of reach for many Latino high school graduates, joining the military is one of the few options that are appealing to them.”

Prof. Mariscal cited a recent report called “Strategic Partnership Plan for 2002-2007” in which the US Army Recruiting Command recognized that since “the Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States and is projected to become 25% of the US population by the year 2025,” it has become a “priority area” for recruitment.

‘Hispanics in the Military’
Referring to a March 2003 Pew Hispanic Center Fact Sheet titled “Hispanics in the Military,” Prof. Mariscal said that Latinos made up some 13.5% of the civilian labor force 18-44 years old — the age range for military service — and as of September 2001, they made up nearly 10% of the military. “These numbers are deceiving,” said Prof. Mariscal. “In reality, nearly 25% of Latinos in the military are involved in combat or hazardous duty occupations. They are basically the grunts.”

Recruiting Latinos has been on the radar screen of the military for several years. In February 1999, Harold Jordan, then coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s National Youth and Militarism Program, wrote that in response to “a difficult recruiting climate,” the military had “stepped up their attempts to get Latinos to join the services.” Since that time, the military has put together a vast array of advertising campaigns aimed at recruiting Latino youth: “Visit any high school with a large Latino population and you will find JROTC units, Army-sponsored computer games, and an overabundance of recruiters, often more numerous than career counselors,” Prof. Mariscal pointed out.

Both citizens and non-citizens are seen as fertile ground. While both groups face the growing lack of employment opportunities, non-citizens are being induced into the military with promises of a fast track to citizenship. According to Andrew Gumbel, the Bush administration has told non-citizens “that they can apply for citizenship the day they join up, rather than waiting the standard five years after receiving their green card.” Currently, between 35,000 to 40,000 non-citizens, most of them Latino, are currently enlisted and, according to Gumbel, “recruiters have even crossed the border into Mexico… to look for school-leavers who may have US residency papers.”

Has the military’s emphasis on Hispanic recruitment been successful? According to the Pew report, while the overall strength of the military dropped by 23% between 1992 and 2001, the number of Hispanics in uniform increased by 30%.

“Although no one has really reported on the ethnicity of the casualty figures in Iraq, from looking at the list at’s “War in Iraq — Forces: US & Coalition/Casualties” Web site, we are guessing that some 20% of the casualties have been Latinos,” Prof. Mariscal told me. The CNN Web site provides the names of coalition casualties — whose families have been notified — and includes pictures of the victims (when available), the soldier’s ages, units, hometowns and an explanation of how each was killed.

Engracia Sirin Gutierrez, Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez’s sister, traveled from Guatemala to Los Angeles for her brother’s funeral: “I do feel proud, because not just anyone gives up their life for another country,” she told reporters. “But at the same time it makes me sad because he fought for something that wasn’t his.”

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