By Military analyst
msnbc.com
updated 3/10/2008 12:05:33 PM ET 2008-03-10T16:05:33
COMMENTARY

The U.S. doesn't offer free health care, and the economy is coming closer and closer to a recession, yet still, the number of people applying for American citizenship is skyrocketing. Last year, it doubled. Despite our nation's problems, the message hasn't changed: If you want opportunity and freedom, come to America.

The enormous administrative burden of processing so many more citizenship applications has slowed the process, never particularly speedy, almost to a halt. But for one group, the interminable wait is particularly difficult: veterans.

Throughout the history of the U.S., immigrants have served in the armed forces, often in disproportionately larger numbers than their percentage of the general population. During the Civil War, entire regiments were composed of recently-arrived foreigners, mostly Germans and Irish. And in the World War II, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed almost completely of Japanese-Americans who had been classified as enemy aliens, taken from their homes and interned in camps, became the Army’s most highly decorated unit.

The current indignity is partly the result of a mindless bureaucracy unable to operate with an increased workload. For example, conducting a background check of each applicant ought to be fairly quick, given the nature of technology and automation, but it doesn’t. Personnel files, fingerprint information and other data ought to be shared among federal agencies, particularly those involved in the citizenship process, but they aren’t.

Just about anything out of the ordinary will confuse bureaucratic organizations. Most of them are improperly organized to accomplish their assigned missions and are often overstaffed, making them bloated and slow. Once they become large and dysfunctional, they also become self-sustaining and resistant to change. And because they are so large, they can’t be eliminated. Best estimates of the federal workforce are that the national government employs almost three million people, not including the armed forces. That makes the contingent of civilian workers nearly twice the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps combined. It’s a wonder anything gets done at all.

An unfair trade-off
But forcing people who have already served our nation to negotiate the swamp of federal bureaucracy is unfair. Almost five years ago, President Bush insisted that immigrant veterans should receive preferential treatment in applying for citizenship, but as every head of a large organization knows, just saying so doesn’t make it so.

There is no reason why immigrants who satisfactorily complete military service should not automatically become citizens, circumventing all of the administrative nonsense that now denies these young people what they deserve. Surely there are no administrative impediments that can’t be cleared with proper leadership, and the net result of doing so will be to bring into the ranks of Americans those who have already proved their dedication to the principle of selfless service.

Opponents complain that such a policy would motivate people to join the armed forces just to become citizens. Well, what’s wrong with that?

Jack Jacobs is a military analyst and a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

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