Monday, April 10, 2006

The Immigration Debate

Over at my favorite political blog Eschaton, there's been a discussion about the owner of another site who made some claims about illegal residents and military service that I found a bit questionable. She said, among other things, that 5 percent of the military is made up of illegal residents. And at Eschaton,there was much discussion about Selective Service registration, military service, legal residents, dual citizenship and so on. All very interesting and informative, but some simply wrong, as you might expect on such a provocative topic. As someone who once worked in a refugee/immigration program, I have a much less black-and-white take on immigration than many people do and think we ought to be compassionate, as citizens, but careful, as journalists, in our choice of language.

Here's what I learned:
To my surprise, even illegal residents of the United States are supposed to register for Selective Service. Males, that is. I don't know what the thinking is, and I can't imagine why anyone in the country illegally would step forward to register, realizing that they would be putting themselves into legal harm's way. But the Selective Service site makes very clear that they are supposed to do so, exempting only foreign students and men in the country on visitor's visas exempt (along with some age exemptions).

I really had doubts about the claims about illegal residents serving in the military, not to say that there are none, because I'm sure there are. But I found a commingling of facts about legal residents who had won citizenship through military service, and the claim about illegal residents. So I sent a question through the Army web site and got this information:

Our citizenship regulations states (sic): “unless you are citizen with the U.S. or are a legal resident alien of the U.S., you are not qualified to enlist in the United States Army.” Any office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service can provide information concerning entry as a resident alien... Their number is 1-800-375-5283 (inside the U.S. only). Army regulations prohibit us from assisting or sponsoring anyone in to the United States.

All this means is that facts, no surprise, need to be checked. Emotions are running high on all sides--and I think there are more than two sides--of this debate and bad information has a way of creeping into the discussion. I am finding a lot of coverage to be superficial, especially on TV, and find myself saying, "But what about..." every time someone on any side is allowed to make a claim that goes unchallenged.

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