Here’s a stat that might surprise you: according to the Pentagon, there are 24,000 immigrants who are not citizens currently serving in the United States military. Given the contentious rhetoric surrounding immigration, we should all take a deep breath and remember that many of those immigrants serving our country in combat are more likely to die for this country than they are to be made American citizens.
While military action in the Middle East is slowly drawing down, people sometimes forget (or were never aware of) the sacrifices that non-citizens immigrants have made serving our country in combat. One of the first service members to die in Iraq Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, was a U.S. resident from Guatemala.
While not nearly enough of these heroes ever receive citizenship, there are some who receive this honor. Speaking at a White House naturalization ceremony over the 4th of July holiday, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano put it this way:
“We have a strong tradition as a welcoming nation, and our efforts ensure that the United States continues to draw people from across the world who contribute in important and innovative ways, I am proud to swear in these brave men and women who have come from all over the world to serve our country and become its newest citizens.”
Many in this country rightly believe that military service is the most patriotic of professions. While not everyone is compelled enough to serve, we can acknowledge that doing so requires incredible bravery, perhaps more so for those who are not citizens.
Imagine for a moment that you have been brought to this country when you were so young you don’t even remember it occurring. You attended school, learn the language of your country, the United States, and have come to love its constitution passionately. You are convinced that America’s democracy is critically important not only to you, but to the world at large.
You believe so passionately in the greatness of this country that even though you are not a citizen, and are aware that there are those here who will never grant you citizenship, you are still willing to lay your life on the line, because you love America – the only country you have ever known.
“These 25 exceptional individuals took an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution’ before sharing fully in the rights and opportunities it provides, we are all inspired by their commitment to freedom and service to preserve our great nation.”
These are the words of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas speaking at the same White House Naturalization ceremony. He is correct – we should be inspired. It is a choice to serve, even if it was not a choice to be here without documentation. It is a powerful thing that the promise of this country inspires people to come here from all over the world. It is perhaps even more powerful, that even when the promise of a better life is not always kept, and yet they still feel impelled to serve in our military.
Speaking at the White House naturalization ceremony, President Obama touched upon this simple fact, “With this ceremony today — and ceremonies like it across our country — we affirm another truth: Our American journey, our success, would simply not be possible without the generations of immigrants who have come to our shores from every corner of the globe.”
While it is a good thing that those men and woman were recognized at the White House for their bravery, what about those other 25,000 men and women currently serving in our military? The President has taken the right step in granting differed action for low priority undocumented immigrants, now Congress must act and pass the DREAM Act. This bi-partisan legislation allows the best and brightest of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and contribute to this the only country they have ever known. Honoring those who serve is the right thing to do. Let’s cut out the negative rhetoric and give respect, dignity and credit where it is due. Without the brave non-citizen immigrants defending our freedom throughout our history, who knows where our county would be?