MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And now to a second winner, an immigration lawyer whose work focuses on military personnel and their families. She is Margaret Stock and she joins me from Anchorage, Alaska where she practices law.
Welcome to the program.
MARGARET STOCK: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
BLOCK: And we should mention you also have a military background. You're a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve. Is that right?
STOCK: That's correct.
BLOCK: And one aspect of your work that is really interesting here is a program that you developed to recruit legal immigrants to the military, to expedite their path to citizenship. Talk about that and why you think it's important.
STOCK: Well, this program grew out of the fact that in all prior wars, the United States military has been open to recruiting immigrants. And that dates back to 1775. In prior wars, we had essentially open-recruiting. And in exchange for people joining the military they were able to get their citizenship immediately. And then after the Vietnam War, we'd sort of forgotten all that history.
So after 9/11, we still had peacetime recruiting rules in effect. And this was hampering the military's ability to draw on the talents of many people who wanted to join the military, but were being turned away.
BLOCK: And why do you think it was important that they be allowed to join the military?
STOCK: Well, we had a dire shortage of people in critical skills. And we needed people who spoke foreign languages. We also had a dire shortage of healthcare professionals. But ironically we had lots of foreign-born people living in the country who are perfectly legal and had these skills. So the idea that I came up with was basically pointing out to people that we already had the legal authority, because there was a war going on, to just bring these people into the military.
You didn't need to go to Congress and get any laws changed. Congress had passed the law back in World War I, it still existed. You just had to dust it off and start using it.
BLOCK: So you started a pilot program. You convinced the Army to let you do this. How did it go?
STOCK: Well, it was wildly successful. We had more than 15,000 people on the Army side applying for 890 positions.
BLOCK: Have you gotten pushback? Are there critics of the programs that you've gotten underway?
STOCK: Oh, sure. You got the standard or response from some people that: Oh, well, only U.S. citizens should be allowed to join the military. And I thought that was interesting because that's never been the case. Because the military is serving globally, it's very important to have the expertise of folks from other cultures who speak other languages. We just can't be an effective military force without the contributions of our foreign-born soldiers.
BLOCK: Do you hear from people though who raise national security concerns about that?
STOCK: Well, they do but their national security concerns with native-born Americans, as I think anyone who reads the news can tell, but the fact that you just happened to be born in a foreign country doesn't automatically make you a security concern. In fact, it can make you quite an asset to security issues.
You're going to understand what the security threats are from a foreign culture. You're going to understand tactics, techniques, and procedures that a foreign adversary might use in a way that a native-born American might not.
BLOCK: How many people now have gone through this program, have been expedited on the path to citizenship through the military?
STOCK: It's a little over our 2,500 people who have come in, primarily into the Army through the program, and they've been for the most part superstars. I don't think anybody would question their loyalty to America. They've just been terrific. Lots of people with PhD's and master degrees and bachelors degrees who we usually don't get in the enlisted ranks.
BLOCK: Well, Margaret Stock, congratulations on the MacArthur.
STOCK: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's immigration lawyer Margaret Stock with Cascadia Cross Border Law in Anchorage, Alaska. She's one of 24 winners of this year's MacArthur Awards. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.