Immigrant Teens Subject to Aggressive Military Recruiting
World Journal, News Feature, Isabelle Hsu.
Translated and compiled by Eugenia Chien,
Aug 31, 2005At the pivotal time of graduating from high school, a military recruiter showered a Chinese high school student with friendship and promises of a speedy citizenship application. In two weeks, Wong Ken Moon, a high school student from Encinal High School in Alameda, California, signed a contract for at least eight years with the U.S. Marines.
Two months after signing the contract, Wong regretted his decision and wanted to back out of the contract on August 12. But he did not even know what type of contract he had signed or how to withdraw from it.
Wong is among the thousands of high school students targeted by campus military recruiters. Recruiters are using visa help to attract immigrant high school students, who are sometimes unaware of the obligations of the contract and how they can pull out of the contract if they change their minds.
Two weeks before graduation, with no definite future plans in mind, Wong met a young female Marine and agreed to be contacted by the Marine recruiter. Newton Dodson, a Marine recruiter based in San Leandro, met with Wong at the beginning of June. Just ten days after Dodson’s first meeting with Wong, he renewed Wong’s expired green card and promised him a speedy U.S. citizenship application.
The military offers non-immigrants expedited processing of visas, says Marti Hiken, co-chair of Military Law Task Force. The process can be as short as three years, compared to the normal five-year waiting period. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a 2004 legislation also allows members of the military to apply for naturalization for free.
Dodson told Wong he would receive $3000 when he reported for boot camp, and a pay raise every six months “because the government won’t go bankrupt.” Wong’s most pressing concern – how he would pay for college – was relieved when Dodson told him that he could go to college for free and serve at the same time. The chance of actually going to war, Dodson told Wong, was about 11 percent.
Dodson says that he does not remember if he told Wong that he could speed up the citizenship process. When asked about the chances of going to battle, he told the World Journal that everyone has a probability to go to war.
Wong was even more convinced that he should join the Marines when Dodson came to his high school graduation. His parents could not attend the graduation because they had to work that day.
Dodson even brought Wong to meet other young people who wanted to join the Marines. They listen to enlisted Marines telling cool war stories.
But when Wong signed the contract on June 11, Dodson was not with him. Under the prodding of officials at the Marines office, Wong signed what he thought was a five year contract. Dodson told the World Journal that the contract that Wong signed includes four years of active duty and four years of reserve duty. In a national emergency, he says that Wong can be on duty indefinitely. Wong says the Marines office did not give him a copy of the contract.
Although Wong’s parents were aware of his plans to enlist, they decided to let him make his own decisions. Dodson brought a Cantonese-speaking Marine representative to meet Wong’s parents and to welcome him to the Marines.
In July, after much consideration, Wong decided he wanted to withdraw from his contract. He decided that he was against the war, and that the military is not his only option. At an anti-war protest, he met Aimee Allison, a specialist who helps enlisted people withdraw from their contracts. Allison, a former G.I and a Gulf War resister, told him that as long as he had not reported to boot camp, he could legally pull out of his contract. She said there would be no negative impact on his career or citizenship application process and that the “no report, no enlist” policy applies to citizens and non-citizens.
Although it is optional, Wong sent a certified mail to the recruiting office to say that he had changed his mind.
Dodson says that every recruiter goes through recruiting training and is required to recruit at least two people every month. In the two years that he has been a recruiter, Wong is the second person to withdraw from his contract.
The military recruiting handbook suggests recruiters provide donuts and coffee for school staff, request to be a time keeper at football games, and gain an “indispensable” role in the school.” They are encouraged to seek out “student influencers,” students who stand out among their peers, and talk to them in front of other students.
Various military branches say that they do not target specific races in recruiting. The number of minorities has decreased in the military. According to Army records, minorities make up of 31 percent of the enlisted now, down from 37 percent five years ago. But the number of Asians has steadily increased from 2.6 percent in 2001 to 3 percent in 2005.
Wong says he changed his mind because he had been against the war in Iraq because the United Nations had been against American involvement from the beginning. He says he is for peace, so he does not want to participate in the military.
Life is too big of a question, Wong says, and he signed the contract too quickly. After he sent the certified letter to the recruiters, he registered for classes at a community college, hoping that in a short time, he can transfer to U.C. Berkeley. The Marine training camp in San Diego isn’t the next step in his life, he says.