Other than Honorable: The Decline of Citizenship for Service

Alfredo Gonzalez

My dissertation prospectus initially sought to understand how non-citizen immigrants incorporate into American society through the United States military. This broad question raised more questions around the relationship between citizenship and membership. The country recognizes its subjects through citizenship, which creates a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the state. This relationship can be observed through the civic republican tradition where the state provides the protection of rights and security in exchange for obligations and responsibilities from the individual—these obligations and responsibilities can be in the form of paying taxes, serving on a jury, and conscription. Citizens continue to cash in on their claims to rights in the name of being a citizen, but many neglect their obligations to the state and ultimately their peers, while some simultaneously castigate immigrants for their perceived failure to address the responsibilities of citizens.  

One of the largest injustices committed by any state is failing to recognize individuals as citizens and full members when they have met and, at times, exceeded all expectations of the host country’s requirements for and of a citizen. Immigrants serving in the U.S. military, especially during a time of war, are such individuals, who are addressing the obligations of citizenship, but continue to be excluded from legal citizenship and full membership. Latino immigrants are particularly important, since they consist of the largest undocumented and permanent resident populations in the country and the largest immigrant population in the military.

Yet, this is where I was stuck. I had an empirical problem, but no real argument. With the support from the Social Sciences Division and mentors within the Department of Political Science, I was able to get small and hone into the central issues of this empirical reality. In order to explain current immigrant incorporation through military service I have to trace the history and process of non-citizens in the military and their relationship with citizenship. The main finding from the preliminary research is that the idea of citizenship for service has declined significantly over time. Non-citizens have always been called upon in all American conflicts from the Revolution to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Black slaves fought for both the British and the Colonies during the Revolution and some were able to acquire freedom after their service, emancipated Blacks fought during the Civil War and eventually were offered citizenship with the 14th Amendment, and Irish immigrants were the last non-citizens to benefit from the exchange of citizenship for military service.

World War I was the last instance where non-citizens acquired citizenship for their military service. The amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 established in sections 328 and 329 that non-citizen services members will be granted the opportunity to have their naturalization requirements expedited, however, citizenship is not guaranteed. The timing of this explicit reduction in accessibility to citizenship through military service coincides with two events. First, the rise in Civil Rights social movements with groups like the American G.I. Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) raising momentum and advocating for the recognition of Latino military veterans as citizens and full members of society. Second, the large influx of immigrants from Central and South America, which can be traced back to the migrant labor during World War II like the Bracero program that recruited Mexican migrant labor.

            These different politically historical moments add different layers to the dissertation and further complicate the project. With all this in mind, I was able to advance the following argument: The racialization of immigration and citizenship has led to the decline in the practice of citizenship for service in the United States. Moreover, non-citizen immigrants can expect to see a decline in trade-offs or concessions for military service with each new American conflict. I am now able to set my research agenda and defend my dissertation prospectus in a timely manner. Arriving at this stage in the project was made possible with the support from the Social Sciences Division.