While the popular image of the US military is one of citizen soldiers protecting their country, the reality is that nearly 5 percent of all first-time military recruits are noncitizens. Their reasons for enlisting are myriad, but many are motivated by the hope of gaining citizenship in return for their service. In Green Card Soldier: Between Model Immigrant and Security Threat (MIT Press, 2023), Sofya Aptekar talks to more than seventy noncitizen soldiers from twenty-three countries, including some who were displaced by conflict after the US military entered their homeland. She identifies a disturbing pattern: the US military's intervention in foreign countries drives migration, which in turn supplies the military with a cheap and desperate labor pool—thereby perpetuating the cycle.
As Aptekar discovers, serving in the US military is no guarantee against deportation, and yet the promise of citizenship and the threat of deportation are the carrot and stick used to discipline noncitizen soldiers. Viewed at various times as security threats and members of a model minority, immigrant soldiers sometimes face intense discrimination from their native-born colleagues and superiors. Their stories—stitched through with colonial legacies, white supremacy, exploitation, and patriarchy—show how the tensions between deservingness and suspicion shape their enlistment, service, and identities. Giving voice to this little-heard group of immigrants, Green Card Soldier shines a cold light on the complex workings of US empire, globalized militarism, and citizenship.
Sofya Aptekar is a Professor at CUNY and the author so several books on the U.S. immigration system.
Sidney Michelini is a PhD student at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research with the FutureLab - Security, Ethnic Conflicts and Migration. His work focuses on how climate, climate shocks, and climate change impact conflicts of different types.