As we reach 4,000 dead and the 6th year of the war in Iraq, it’s no secret that the armed services are suffering from recruiting problems.

What isn’t widely publicized is that nearly 25,000 non-citizens are on active duty in the U.S. armed forces and many have died in Iraq, including Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, an illegal Guatemalan immigrant, who was killed in action on March 21, 2003.

High schools with large Mexican and Latino populations have complained that military recruiters often target Hispanic immigrants. Students are told that enlisting will put them on a fast track for citizenship. What recruiters don’t tell the immigrants, however, is that only citizens and legal permanent residents can legally enlist. The military has no authority to grant citizenship. It forwards citizenship applications to Immigration, Customs and Enforcement.

This was not always the case. During World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars, citizenship was granted solely on the basis of three years of honorable service or honorable discharge from service whether or not the person ever lived in the United States.

An Executive Order signed by President Bush on July 3, 2002 stated that any non-citizen in the military could apply for expedited citizenship on the first day of active duty.

Opponents of the order argue that Congress has never officially declared war, even though the President constantly uses the phrase, “the war in Iraq.” Therefore, illegal immigrants in the military are in violation of the law and should be prosecuted.

In June of 2007, the Senate failed to pass legislation that would have given legal permanent residency to any alien who has served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, has received an honorable discharge.

And so the debate continues. Should the U.S. allow illegal immigrants to serve in the military, and should those immigrants then be offered citizenship if they served honorably?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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