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Fernando and Rose Suarez sold their home and their laundry business and immigrated with their children. Jesus enrolled at a high school known for academic achievement. But the recruiter wanted him to transfer to a school for problem teenagers, since its requirements for graduation were lower, and Jesus would be able to finish sooner. He was 17 1/2 when he graduated from that school, still too young to enlist on his own, so his father co signed the enlistment form, as the military requires for underage recruits.

Three years later, at the age of 20, his body was torn apart in Iraq by an American made fragmentation grenade during the first week of the invasion. In the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty database, his death is number 74.

Now Jesus is in a cemetery, and his parents, who blame each other for his death, are painfully and bitterly divorced. military recruiters the way he wishes he had protected his son.

In the Iraq war, citizenship is being used as a recruiting tool aimed specifically at young immigrants, who are told that by enlisting they will be able to quickly get citizenship for themselves (sometimes true: it depends on what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security finds) and their entire families (not true: each family member has to go through a separate application process). The well crafted messages on the DEP website have been in development ever since the draft ended and the all volunteer military was initiated after Vietnam.

The DEP’s persuasion campaigns originally targeted black teenagers with the message that military service equaled jobs that promised fair treatment regardless of race. Recruiters were able to easily meet their quotas until the early ’80s, when enlistment rates of young African Americans began to decline and the rates for Latinos began to rise for reasons the military did not understand.

Over the next decade, the military commissioned a number of studies on the relationship between race and ethnicity and the “propensity to enlist.” For example, the Youth Attitude Tracking Survey, conducted between 1975 and 1999 and published by the Defense Technical Information Center, found a correlation between the rising educational achievement of blacks and lower enlistment rates, and between the low educational achievement of Latinos (particularly if their first language was not English) and rising enlistment rates.

As Latinos became a more important source of recruits, the Pentagon hired market research firms to design advertising campaigns that addressed the issues they care most about: family pride, education and citizenship.

Today, the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force recruitment campaigns focus largely on education and benefits to families. The Army’s campaign, created by Cartel Impacto, a cutting edge firm from San Antonio, Texas, uses the firm’s proprietary “barrio anthropology” and grassroots “viral and guerrilla marketing” techniques to “go deep into the neighborhoods and barrios” in order to tell Latino families how the military can help them have the kind of life they want in America.

“We address the core issues of why they left their country in the first place,” says a Cartel Impacto spokeswoman, who did not want her name published. “You have to conduct your outreach carefully,” she says, “using PTAs as an entry point,” as well as “local Hispanic groups that the newly arrived would look to.”These marketing campaigns support the work of recruiters who, as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, must have free access to students in every one of the country’s public schools. Recruiters operating in high schools try to get children as young as 14 to sign up for the military’s DEP, which allows them to finish high school before going on active duty.

Under the program, these young “men and women,” as recruiters are trained to call them, are targeted, tested, gifted, video gamed, recruitment faired and career counseled into enlisting before they turn 18. They are also paid $2,000 for every friend they talk into signing up with them and,
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until recently, were paid $50 for every name they brought in to a recruiter.

In addition to cash, students who help recruiters to enlist their friends are promoted to a higher military rank, from Private E 1 to Private E 2, even before they are out of high school. The rewards are commensurate with the quality of the friends they recruit, as measured by their friends’ ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores.

“You will get promoted to Private E 2,” promises the DEP website, if your referrals lead to the enlistment of “one soldier who scores 50 or higher on the ASVAB” or “two soldiers who score 31 Private E 1s are paid $1,301 a month, while E 2s earn $1,458 per month. Further, getting a second high scoring friend or two more low scoring friends to enlist earns the student another promotion, to Private E 3, and kicks the entry pay up to $1,534 per month.

Another way DEPs can earn extra money is to volunteer for hazardous duty. Students who sign up to be in a combat unit or dismantle explosives or handle toxic chemicals get an additional $150 per month on top of their basic pay.

Volunteering for hazardous duty, however, is a relative concept. Since DEP recruits do not, by definition, have a college education, there are few other military occupations open to them, unless their ASVAB scores are high enough for them to qualify for advanced training.

With the greatest need in this war being combat soldiers much so that even highly trained Air Force personnel are being sent to work with Army ground troop units chances of any DEP recruit getting out of combat duty and its attendant hazards are slim. The ASVAB is also administered only in English, and any job requiring even a security clearance cannot be held by a noncitizen. The implications of these conditions for young immigrants can be deadly.

The Department of Defense’s casualty database doesn’t publicly break down the dead and injured by ethnic group, but a tally of Latino surnames found that between Jan. 10 and July 1, 2007, 20 percent of the 174 young people ages 18 to 21 who died were likely to have been Latino. “But what we do know is that recruiters may not be up to speed on everybody’s legal status. We also know that a significant number of [illegals] have died in Iraq.”

The recruitment of illegal immigrants is particularly intense in Los Angeles, where 75 percent of high school students are Latino.

“A lot of our students are undocumented,” says Arlene Inouye, a teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, “and it’s common knowledge that recruiters offer green cards.”

Inouye is the coordinator and founder of the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, a counter recruitment organization that educates teenagers about deceptive recruiting practices. “The practice is pretty widespread all over the nation,” she says, “especially in California and Texas. The recruiters tell them, ‘You’ll be helping your family.'”

Inouye referred me to Salvador Garcia, a student whose father had been deported and who had been approached by a recruiter when he was a freshman at Garfield (he is now a senior). Garcia says the recruiter told him, “If you need papers, come and fight for us and we can get you some, and then you’ll never have to mess with immigration.”

When Garcia told the recruiter that he was born in this country, the recruiter responded, “Do you have anybody in your family that needs a green card, needs papers?” Salvador told him that his father, who had entered the country illegally from Mexico, had recently been deported. “If you join the military you can get your father back,” the recruiter reportedly said. “It’s not a problem. We can get him his papers, and nobody will ever bother him again.”

Salvador says he almost signed the enlistment form right then,
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but says he was stopped by the realization of “how it’s all connected the war and Mexico and immigration.” He is now active in the counter recruitment movement.