This band of brothers known as the “green card soldiers”  are in fact non-US citizens who have been recruited to fight the Bush administration’s foreign wars ... with promises of a fast-track citizenship, a college education and financial bonuses.

Thousands of these foreign fighters, whose native language is mainly Spanish, are now serving in Iraq.

They are not prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their own country - but they are prepared to die for a green card ... the famous permit which allows non-US citizens to reside in America.
 
The immigration crackdown that followed 11 September 2001 means that moving to America is harder than ever. Newcomers have been targeted for special scrutiny from the security services and asylum seekers have been jailed.

Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge, has said that the administration may even consider allowing the government to revoke the US citizenship of those who hold two passports.

But there is one way to prove your desire to live in America ... show that you are ready to die for it.

One in ten

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, about one in ten of the 282 soldiers killed fighting for America have been non-citizens, mostly from Latin America.

Given that green card soldiers make up just 2.5% of the US total fighting force, it is immediately clear that a non-citizen is four times more likely to die on active service than a US born citizen.

This imbalance is due to the fact that the green card holders are excluded from the more technical programmes and specialties because of mandatory security clearance, a spokesperson says.

They are statistically more likely to be serving on the front line of America’s invasions.

"Bush, Blair and those around them are always willing to fight to the last drop of someone else's blood," George Galloway, an outspoken British member of parliament and Iraq expert, told Aljazeera.

"Either blacks or latinos or poor whites are those fighting in this latest colonial adventure," he said from his holiday villa in Portugal.

Galloway, a leading light in the UK anti-war movement caused a furious reaction from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the US president when he described them as "wolves."

He added: "The soldiers are lions led by donkeys, sent to kill and be killed." 

Hollow reward

One of the first “US” soldiers to be killed in the current Iraq war was Lance Corporal Jose Antonio Gutierrez, 28, an orphan from the streets of Guatemala City who slipped across the Mexican border illegally six years ago.


“The only thing I do not understand is, why wars? Why do we fight against other human beings if, at the end of our time – friends or enemies – we all end up in the same place, buried in cemeteries and many times forgotten”

Jose Antonio Gutierrez,
Guatemalan marine

He lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was five, and his father died of drink by his side when he was eight. After giving up school, drifting from job to job, doing time in Guatemalan and Mexican jails – the latter on his second ill-fated attempt to enter the US - he finally made it across the border.

Telling social workers in Los Angeles that he was just 16 – adults who sneak in to the US are swiftly deported if caught - he won their sympathy and the right to stay. He went to school under cover of his assumed age, and eventually got the all-important green card.

This gave him the right to join the US military, and despite being a peace-loving soul, keen on writing poetry, the need for a sense of belonging and the lure of the cash incentives drew him into the marines last year, just in time for the looming war in Iraq.

“I understand everything I have been taught,” he wrote to a friend at the end of his training in the Marine Corps. “The only thing I do not understand is, why wars? Why do we fight against other human beings if, at the end of our time – friends or enemies – we all end up in the same place, buried in cemeteries and many times forgotten.”

His dream of becoming an American citizen was only achieved with his death in a fire fight near the Iraqi city of Umm Qasr. His death was a mistake. He ran out of a building that had been occupied by marines and was shot by “friendly fire”.

He was buried, his coffin draped in the US flag, unable to enjoy the privilege that had eluded him in life.

The coverage in the US media of the sacrifice made by Gutierrez and the dozens of  others like him applauded their heroism and demanded automatic posthumous citizenship for them. It is now available to those whose families apply, though it may seem a hollow reward.

The citizenship conferred on Gutierrez and another slain non-citizen, Jose Garibay from Mexico, is "primarily symbolic" because it carries no benefits for their relatives, says Francisco Arcaute of the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.


The “green card draft” is tempting the disenfranchised to do a job that the sons of senators would balk at. America is creating a mercenary army, made up of soldiers it can afford to lose.

Gutierrez’s sister, who is also hoping to be allowed into the States, has been paid $250,000 compensation, a fortune to a Guatemalan fruit vendor. She later told reporters, “I do feel proud, because not just anyone gives up their life for another country. But at the same time it makes me sad because he fought for something that wasn’t his.”

"One cannot expect anything good from those things," Engracia told the Arizona Republic newspaper. "It's bad. I am a lover of peace and, to me, war leaves mourning in the heart."

Executive order

America’s closest ally, Britain, would not have given Gutierrez the same opportunity. Those who want to fight for the UK have to be born there or in the Commonwealth, and service has no citizenship-linked incentive. “That’s not something that we do,” said Ministry of Defence spokeswoman Miriam Adol.

In America, however, permanent residents are actively encouraged to sign up, with the lure of citizenship. Today, about one in every 40 US soldiers does not have an American passport, but hopes to pick one up soon, courtesy of the commander in chief.

In an executive order on 3 July last year, Bush called for "expedited naturalisation for aliens and non-citizen nationals serving in an active-duty status ... during the period of the war against terrorists of global reach."

Around a third of these soldiers come from Mexico and other Latin-American nations. They fight alongside others from China, Vietnam, Canada, South Korea, India and many other countries.

“The military services have processes and programmes in place to help service members expedite their citizenship,” said a US Department of Defence spokesperson. “The estimated time for the application process is about six months.”

Mercenary army

America’s military recruitment drive, the Montgomery GI Bill, is charged by critics with creating a “poverty draft”, targeting schools in poor and ethnic minority areas, with promises of educational grants and job training that often fail to materialise.


“Decision-makers who support war would more readily feel the pain of conflict and appreciate the sacrifice of those on the front lines if their children were there, too”

Charles Rangel,
US Congressman
 

Its “green card draft” seems to be doing the same – tempting the disenfranchised to do a job that the sons of senators would balk at. America is creating a mercenary army, made up of soldiers it can afford to lose.

Carlos Montes, who heads a coalition called Latinos Against the War in Iraq, says the army and marines pressure young Latinos in areas such as East LA to join, knowing they have few attractive options following high school.

He says that Jose Gutierrez is an example of how the military talks undocumented youngsters into signing up, by promising citizenship and up to $50,000 for college.

Montes says some young Latino soldiers have told him the recruiter's promises often are not true.

Green card draft

Anti-war Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel has called for a return to the traditional lottery draft system, arguing that drafting the children of the policy-making elite would force Congress to deter unnecessary US military action.

“Decision-makers who support war would more readily feel the pain of conflict and appreciate the sacrifice of those on the front lines if their children were there, too,” he said, before the assault on Iraq.

The Bush administration has dismissed returning to the draft, as it believes it can fulfil its expanding strategic ambitions by increasing spending on military technology and by recruiting the most vulnerable and expendable.

Since the draft was abandoned during the Vietnam War in 1973, the US has relied on a volunteer force, under the rationale that those who want to serve are those best qualified to do so. But by recruiting non-citizens, it puts itself in the same moral sphere as the Taliban, that relied on foreign fighters during the last days of its rule in Afghanistan.

Those fighters were branded “terrorists” by the Bush administration, as are the foreign guerrillas attacking occupation troops in Iraq today.