Avoiding a Wrong Turn

Little things mean a lot. A wrong turn, an innocent oversight, or an official form left unfilled could make the difference between the path to success or a road filled with bumps and barriers.

Readers of this magazine already know that a disturbingly high percentage of Latino males are not finishing high school. Not as well known are the problems these men face because they didn’t register with Selective Service at ages 18 through 25. Latinos are rising to the top levels of every profession, art, and craft. But while many are seizing the opportunities that only America can offer, too many others are falling through the cracks. As far as I’m concerned, one Latino left behind would be one too many, and I didn’t become Director of Selective Service on December 4, 2009, without every intention of getting the word out to the entire community.

Readers of this magazine may not realize it, but they can be helpful in getting Latinos registered. Many readers are leaders in their communities. We call them “influencers.” When they speak, young people listen. When a young man is told by someone he admires that registering with Selective Service is something he needs to do, he’ll do it.

So, you can render great service in reminding young Latino men to register. Why is that important? Because hopes of living the American Dream can be shattered by failing to register. Many federal benefits and privileges are connected to the registration requirement. They include student financial aid, federal jobs and job training, drivers licenses in most states, and for immigrants, citizenship. Many states and municipalities have adopted similar requirements. In today’s economy, a man who loses his job will often go back to school to upgrade his skills. Without financial aid, that might be impossible. When it happens, it’s a tragedy, and it happens every day.

There are a number of reasons why a Latino male may not be registered. The basic reason is that they are unaware of the requirement. An immigrant may not have attended an American high school, where most young find out about the registration requirement. Or he may not yet speak English.

Latinos who entered the United States without documents too often try to keep a low profile and don’t register, fearing that it will lead to deportation. Unfortunately, men who never registered before the age of 26, for whatever reason, may be denied citizenship and other benefits. We need to reassure them that Selective Service does not share its data with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, the former INS). In fact, Selective Service forms don’t even ask for a man’s citizenship or residency status.

There is another way readers of this magazine can help. As the U.S. Marine Corps is looking “for a few good men,” Selective Service is looking for a few good board members. As readers of this magazine know, there hasn’t been a military draft since 1973. No one seriously favors bringing it back. Congress doesn’t want it. The admirals and generals in the Pentagon don’t want it.But the world is still a dangerous and unpredictable place, and that’s why Congressional leadership and Presidential Administrations of both parties have seen fit to retain Selective Service as an insurance policy against the unexpected. Too often, America has found itself unprepared for crises.

Should a world crisis ever oblige Congress to resume the military draft, local civilian boards will be activated across the country. Such boards would hear and determine claims for postponements, hardship deferments, and conscientious objections. The boards should reflect their communities as closely as possible. Since Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, they should be well-represented on local boards at least in proportion to their numbers.

I appeal to readers of this magazine, both men and women. Consider volunteering for your local draft board. Information about becoming a local board member can be found at http://www.sss.gov/fslocal.htm. You may also call our Directorate of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at 703-605-4100, and you will be redirected to the appropriate regional office to discuss possible board vacancies.

One of my predecessors and fellow Texan, Gil Coronado, did a marvelous job of Hispanic outreach. Selective Service outreach teams have travelled to such areas of high Latino population density as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Phoenix, and Los Angeles (four times) since 2003. The teams meet with organizations dedicated to serving the Latino community. They also schedule focus groups of Latino youths to critique our public awareness materials before final printing and distribution. Many of our brochures, posters, “Fast Facts,” and radio public service announcements are in Spanish. This tradition of Latino outreach will continue at Selective Service.

Lawrence G. Romo is the Director of the Selective Service System.