New Americans in the Military

Immigrants play a key role in U.S. military readiness.

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In the wake of the Senate’s passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, in June by a bipartisan supermajority of 68 to 32, the drumbeat for immigration reform has only increased. Over the past few weeks, House Democrats introduced a version of the Senate bill in H.R. 15, and a growing chorus of bipartisan voices has pushed for reform that would put most of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States on a path to citizenship. Nevertheless, the House has so far failed to bring any immigration bill to the floor. While much of the immigration debate in Congress has revolved around issues of border security and even the economic contributions of immigrants, far less has been discussed about the contributions that immigrants make in other areas, particularly through their military service.

Immigrants and their children comprised half of the total U.S. population growth between 1990 and 2010, and one-quarter of all children under age 18 living in the United States have at least one immigrant parent. Immigrants and their children are increasingly vital resources to military recruitment, serving as soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen. The active-duty military currently contains more than 65,000 immigrants—5 percent of the force—and noncitizen immigrants account for 4 percent of all first-term military recruits. Roughly 3 percent of all living U.S. veterans were born abroad, and 12 percent of all living veterans are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.

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