Turning 18 is a big milestone—kids are generally finishing up high school and preparing to move out into the world. They can register to vote and actively take part in the political system; they're officially considered adults by the government. But another big milestone that may also be on the mind of families of young men is their duty of registering for selective service.
The Selective Service System is an agency of the U.S. Government that helps keep track of all males between ages 18 and 25 who are eligible for military conscription—aka the draft. And it's illegal not to register.
Who Is Required to Register for the Draft?
All American born males are required to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday and non-citizens must register within 30 days of arriving in the U.S., whether they are documented or undocumented. The Selective Service doesn't require those who register to share their immigration or citizenship status.
"The Selective Service System has not now, or in the past, collected or shared any information which would indicate a man's immigration status, either documented or undocumented," states the Selective Service website. "Selective Service has no authority to collect such information, has no use for it, and it is irrelevant to the registration requirement. Consequently, there is no immigration data to share with anyone."
What Happens If I Don't Register for the Draft?
Failure to register with the Selective Service within the allotted timeframe can result in a few different penalties. You won't be eligible for federal financial aid for college, you won't be able to take a federal job or job training, and there's a chance you could be arrested and face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or spend up to five years in prison. If you're not an American citizen, you won't be eligible for citizenship.
Is the Draft Still Active?
Short answer, no. The current U.S. military is all volunteer and hasn't forced conscription since the early 1970s at the conclusion of the Vietnam War. To reinstate the draft, Congress and the president would have to work together. If the U.S. military needed more troops than they could muster through volunteers, Congress would draft and pass legislation that the president would then have to sign into law.
Once the draft was reinstated, a lottery-type process would occur to choose people to be drafted. The lottery process begins with those turning 20 during the year. If more personnel were needed, the lottery would move to those turning 21, then 22, then 23, on up to those turning 25. Eighteen and 19-year-olds come last and are unlikely to be drafted.
Who Can Avoid the Draft?
In certain cases, men of eligible age who are drafted can file for an exemption, reclassification, or postponement of service. Conscientious objectors, surviving sons or brothers, reservists, ministers and ministerial students, some elected officials, veterans, and some immigrants may qualify for an exemption. Similarly, those whose conscription would present a hardship for dependents can file for exemption or reclassification.
The U.S. has not conscripted troops in almost 50 years and to reinstate the draft would take a major crisis. The draft has never been politically popular and passing the legislation necessary would likely be a highly contested process.