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Yo Soy El Army: US Military Targets Latinos with Extensive Recruitment Campaign

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In addition to the racial profiling encouraged by Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law, the Hispanic community in this country is the target of a different kind of profiling, as well: the military’s targeting of Latino recruits. We get a report from independent media activist and community organizer Marco Amador of Producciones Cimarrón and the Center for Community Communications and the Big Noise media collective. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigration has long been a hot-button issue, but ever since Arizona passed this controversial anti-immigrant law that orders police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant, immigration has been thrust front and center into the national debate. The law has been the target of protests and boycotts across the country. Critics say it’s an open invitation to racial profiling and arbitrary detention of Latinos. But the Hispanic community in this country is the target of a different kind of profiling, as well, one that’s rarely talked about: the military’s targeting of Latino recruits.

Marco Amador is an independent media activist and community organizer in East Los Angeles. He is the founder of Producciones Cimarrón and the Center for Community Communications. He filed this report with the Big Noise media collective. It’s called Yo Soy El Army.

    WOLF BLITZER: … the prospects of reinstating the draft. Even as President Bush makes plans to expand the overall size of the Army…

    UNIDENTIFIED: No end in sight to US involvement in the Iraq war.

    TONY BLANKLEY: The military clearly is not big enough.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is in our vital interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

    STEPHANIE CUTTER: We are facing a crisis in terms of troop shortage.

    UNIDENTIFIED: You want to unify Republicans and Democrats? Bring up the draft, because we’re all opposed to reinstating the draft.

    COLIN POWELL: There’s no draft, of course, but we have not fully mobilized the nation.

    MARCO AMADOR: Ten years of war in Afghanistan and seven in Iraq have stretched America’s all-volunteer army to its limit. With almost a thousand permanent military bases around the globe, the US needs to add another 92,000 troops to its 2.5-million-member armed forces. The constant need for troops to maintain this massive global presence is causing a crisis in recruitment.

    US SOLDIER: I do solemnly swear.

    US SOLDIER: To support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    US SOLDIER: Against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    US SOLDIER: So help me God.

    US SOLDIER: So help me God.

    MARCO AMADOR: In poor and working-class communities across the US, military recruiters are working their way into schools, churches and community groups. They are making the military a normal part of American life.

    A 2009 study by the US Army-funded think tank RAND specifically pointed to Latinos as an untapped source of recruits. The study encourages the military to aggressively target the Latino community.

    JORGE MARISCAL: Going way back to the Clinton administration in the '90s, there was a recognition in the Pentagon that the largest military-age group in the coming decades, really, was going to be Latino. Just because of the way the population was growing demographically, we were going to have the largest pool of young people.

    MARCO AMADOR: Jorge Mariscal is a Vietnam veteran and professor of Chicano studies at the University of California in San Diego.

    JORGE MARISCAL: They also realized that our young people don't have all the educational and job opportunities that some other groups do, so that meant that we were a logical community to focus on. These things, in combination with the population growth, really meant that we had a target on our back as a community.

    LT. COL. MARGARET STOCK: Latinos tend to do very well at basic training, not drop out of basic training so much as other groups. They tend to stay in the military longer.

    MARCO AMADOR: Margaret Stock is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, immigration law consultant for the Department of Defense, and a professor at West Point.

    LT. COL. MARGARET STOCK: Many Latinos are comfortable with a more conservative or traditional lifestyle, I suppose you might say. They’re not — they’re able to handle a hierarchical military structure where people in charge will give orders and everybody else is expected to follow the orders. There are some communities that are less likely to be interested in that kind of lifestyle. But generally speaking — and again, this is, you know, a generalization — Latinos adjust pretty well to that kind of lifestyle. And I think it’s part of its cultural —-

    JORGE MARISCAL: If you look at the Pentagon’s own documents, they have three or four principal markets, and it’s interesting that those markets aren’t defined by ethnicity, but if you look at those markets, there are just a lot of Latinos there. So the San Antonio market is huge. The New York City area, New Jersey, again, heavy in Latinos, is one of their main market. And Miami market. The LA market is huge, which actually stretches all the way up into Central California to about San Jose. So, if you look at the, you know, demographics there, Latinos are overrepresented.

    MARINE RECRUITER: Today we have a college career fair. And right now, just to make it a little more interesting, we bring our pull-up bar. Pretty much what we do here is we give out information about the Marines. We let them know what the qualifications are. We dispel any myths or clear up any rumors.

    MARCO AMADOR: At LA’s Manual Arts High School college and career day, Navy and Marine recruiters are on hand presenting the military as an alternative to college or work in the private sector. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires every high school in America to give the military access to its facilities and even student records for the purposes of recruiting.

    MARINE RECRUITER: Right now, I’m an electrical engineer. I work on $2 million worth of equipment. Along with that, I already got my college degree.

    MARCO AMADOR: Today’s military not only recruits students, but their teachers, as well.

    MARINE RECRUITMENT AD: As an educational professional, your highest priority is guiding students to opportunities that will result in successful futures. We would like you to consider that one of these opportunities might very well be the United States Marine Corps.

    TEACHER: A lot of people and certain educators in school believe that, you know, if you go to the Marine Corps, you know, you’re going there to be a killer or you’re going to end up getting killed. And the Marine Corps is far from that.

    MARINE RECRUITMENT AD: Several times a year, educators from around the country gather to attend an educators’ workshop at Marine Corps recruit depots.

    TRAINER: The only thing out of your mouths will be “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” and “Ay, ay, sir.” Do you understand?

    TEACHERS: Yes, sir!

    TEACHER: Hopefully, you know, I’ve helped a few students, you know, reach their dream.

    MARCO AMADOR: But increased militarization of American schools is not happening without a fight. Just a few miles away, anti-militarism activists are waging their own struggle.

    ARLENE INOUYE: It’s about military recruiters. Thank you.

    MARCO AMADOR: Arlene Inouye is a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and the coordinator of Coalition for Alternatives to Militarism in Our Schools.

    ARLENE INOUYE: It seems like a setup to me. I feel like there’s a setup that we are really pushing certain kinds of kids into the military, and it always impacts upon those who are the poorest and those who are the darkest, who don’t see the opportunities or don’t have the opportunities, and those who are immigrants who feel that they want to belong and that this is a way that they can prove their patriotism.

    ACTIVIST: You guys want to check it out? We’re trying to get the military out of the school.

    MARCO AMADOR: Ron Góchez is a community organizer and teacher at Santee High School in South Central Los Angeles and a member of the Association of Raza Educators.

    RON GÓCHEZ: There were Marines on campus who came in with a Humvee, you know, camouflage. It looked like a scene out of Iraq. But they were not in Iraq. They were at lunchtime in the middle of our campus, you know, passing out propaganda to our kids, you know, having a little pull-up bar and all that, the whole deal. So we’re here, in a way, to counter that, with students here. They’re going to be passing out flyers, to give the other side of the coin, right? These kids are going to be cannon fodder. They’re going to be sending these kids off to Iraq, off to Afghanistan, or wherever else the government, you know, regardless of whether it’s Democrat or Republican -— they’re all the same, imperialist governments. They’re going to go, and they’re going to attack future countries. And who are going to be the first ones on the front lines? Like always, Operation Brown Shield — young Raza or African students who are going to be thrown into the front lines to defend American capital while living in one of the poorest parts of America.

    JORGE MARISCAL: Well, the reason the Pentagon tries to invade the public school system is very simple, and it’s in their literature. They say, “Get them while they’re young.” That’s a direct quote. What does that mean? Well, they’re not recruiting middle school people, but they’re giving them the notion that this is something that you want to be. They’re installing this notion of militaristic culture, that the military is something that they should want to be part of.

    MARCO AMADOR: Patriotism, the need for opportunities, and for some, the promise of education. But these are not the only forces that are pushing young Latinos towards the armed services. A growing population of immigrants is creating a new and permanent pool for recruitment.

    REPORTER: Calling it a defining moment, President Clinton, with great fanfare, signed legislation putting the North American Free Trade Agreement into law.

    LOU DOBBS: Illegal aliens are now competing directly with millions of US citizens for jobs.

    KITTY PILGRIM: 2007 may be remembered as the year the American people rejected amnesty for illegal aliens.

    GLENN BECK: Bottom line is, we don’t want amnesty. We would like you to stop the flow of illegals into our country.

    JORGE MARISCAL: The dream, really, of citizenship is the main thing that people — that recruiters offer. Related to that is something called the DREAM Act. Now, the DREAM Act would actually take noncitizen youths, who have been raised here, who were brought here as children, are bilingual, bicultural, fluent in English, and graduated from high school, that would allow them to serve in the military in exchange for temporary permanent residency.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One last point I want to make on the immigration issue, something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the DREAM Act.

    DREAM ACT AD: Please support the DREAM Act.

    DREAM ACT AD: Please support the DREAM Act.

    DREAM ACT AD: Because we all deserve equal opportunities.

    DREAM ACT AD: Because we all deserve an education.

    JORGE MARISCAL: What one has to realize about the DREAM Act is that the military option wasn’t attached. The military option was there at the beginning. The Pentagon helped write the DREAM Act. That’s what people have to realize.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Yo Soy El Army. Special thanks to Jacquie Soohen and Kouross Esmaeli of Big Noise Films. We’re joined now by Marco Amador, the independent media activist and community organizer who produced the piece.

Marco, on Monday, the ACLU, the NAACP and other groups have filed suit against Arizona, saying that the new anti-immigration law is unconstitutional and encourages racial profiling. What are you doing in LA?

MARCO AMADOR: Well, you know, besides by producing this film, we’re also working on a boycott within some of the folks in the music industry. We have musical groups like Rage Against the Machine, artists like Michael Moore, Conor Oberst, that are going to be also joining this artistic boycott, an artist call to boycott Arizona, as well. We believe that because of what’s happening in Arizona, it’s now become politically acceptable to attack Latinos. And, you know, that’s how we’re relating this film also to this, as well. Not only are we acceptable to be attacked, but, you know, we’re looked at as this group of people that can also be recruited and put into the worst positions in the society.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, today in the headlines, we just read that four students were arrested yesterday after holding a sit-in at Senator McCain’s office. They’re calling on McCain to back the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent citizenship to undocumented workers’ children if they complete two years of college, of military, of trade school. Three of the protesters were undocumented, and now they face deportation. It’s the first time students are risking deportation to back immigration reform legislation. Talk about the DREAM Act.

MARCO AMADOR: Well, you know, for us, the DREAM Act became part of the film as we started looking into the military recruitment of the Latino community and how the Pentagon was spending millions and millions of dollars into studying this community and seeing how they can bring them more into the military life. We saw that, along that, one of those issues was the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act was introduced back in 2001. Senator Durbin was — is one of the main vocal supporters of this. But what people don’t understand is that there’s also West Point intellectuals that have been involved in the creation of the DREAM Act.

Now, within the military ranks, within these intellectuals, as it says in our films, they have a quite a bit of an understanding of the socioeconomic background that the Latinos come from. They understand that they come from poor, working-class communities, and they see that the DREAM Act is a way to bring in more of these undocumented citizens that are here in this country, to bring them into the ranks. They understand that college is an expensive alternative for a lot of these folks, so they’re offering the military. And they say it very blatantly. They say, you know, “Well, we’ll give them a job. You know, we’ll put them in the ranks, unfortunately, because they’re not citizens. We can — the only places they can work at within the military is, you know, infantry, its transportation.” So again, we have this channeling of a new population being put into the military into the most dangerous positions within the military. And that’s wher we see the contradictions of the DREAM Act.

Now, we’re not, you know, focusing or saying that the students, you know, the youth that are involved in the DREAM movement are at fault here. What we’d like to understand is, do the organizations fully understand the implications of accepting the militarization of the immigrant rights movement?

AMY GOODMAN: Marco Amador, I want to thank you very much for being with us, independent media activist and community organizer. A very important piece that you’ve just produced. Thanks so much.

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