By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
In this country, 6,500 young men turn 18 every day, but something that many are unaware of may come back to haunt them years later. <!–more–>
“Three years ago, there was a Filipino man in San Francisco, who had been working for the VA (Veterans Affairs) hospital for 18 years,” said James Shuback, a public affairs specialist for the Selective Service System. “For some reason, after 9/11, people became more conscious about screening records. So they screened his records and saw that he hadn’t registered with the Selective Service. So the VA hospital terminated him. The VA actually didn’t want to do it, but the OPM (Office of Personnel Management), the agency that administered the job, made the decision to terminate.”
What the Selective Service does is keep a database of men who might be called on to serve the United States in the event of a national emergency, if more men are needed than the volunteer military can provide. The Selective Service is actually not part of the Department of Defense, but instead acts as an independent agency within the Executive Branch of the federal government.
Not registering is against the law. Failure to register can result in up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.
It should be noted that when a man registers, he is not actually joining the military.
“It takes an act of Congress and the signature of the president to have a draft,” said Shuback.
“[Currently,] there is absolutely no desire to have a draft.” There has not been a draft since 1973. Since then, the United States has relied exclusively on volunteers for its military.
According to Registration Compliance Statistical Information, Washington state has one of the lowest percentages of 18-year-olds registering, as of Dec. 31, 2010. Along with Texas, Washington is 46th in the nation, with only 45 percent of 18-year-old men registering.
“We came out to do focus groups with young men,” said Shuback. “And we asked, ‘What’s the issue here?’ There seems to be a far-removed awareness. They don’t know what [Selective Service] is. And if they did know about [registration], they didn’t understand it. If they did understand it, well, I heard a couple people say that they didn’t think it was important.”
In the United States, a male must register within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Additionally, all foreign males between the ages of 18 and 25 living in the country — this includes permanent residents, refugees, dual citizens, and illegal immigrants — must also register.
“If you are undocumented, you must register,” said Shuback. “Of course, it begs the question, why would an undocumented person ever register? Well, in case there is ever an amnesty program, which hopefully there will be. At that point, every person will be held to the same letter of the law. So if you’re in this country [illegally] at 18 and you get amnesty at 27, but you never registered [with the Selective Service], when you apply for benefits, you will not get benefits.”
Other than it being the law, it is also important for men to register for Selective Service for financial and professional reasons. Students who aren’t registered aren’t qualified for federal student loans or grants, for example. Those who do register may be eligible for job training through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which offers programs in fields such as auto/TV/radio repair, carpentry, and electrical work. Men have to be registered with the Selective Service to work in federal government jobs.
Perhaps most relevant to Asian immigrants is the fact that men have to be registered in order to receive U.S. citizenship.
“It’s mostly immigrants on our hotline that call, and they say, ‘But no one told me about this.’ It’s really a heartbreak,” said Shuback.
Men who are opposed to participation in war must still register. Should a draft occur and should they be called, these men would have the opportunity to file a claim for exemption from military service based on religious or moral objections to war.
Women are currently not required to register.
“You might ask why don’t women have to do it. Right now, that’s the way the law is written. The law has been tested in Congress twice so far. … At some point, it may change. But now, it’s just men,” said Shuback. ♦
To register, visit www.sss.gov.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.