Several members of U.S. armed forces take the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Opinion: Honored to serve without citizenship

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.”

Opinion: Honored to serve without citizenship  147825429 e1341800068141 politics NBC Latino News

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sergey Eliseev (R) of the US Army and originally from Russia, alongside other active duty US service members, after they became US citizens during a naturalization ceremony in the East Room of the White House on 4th of July, 2012. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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?

Opinion: Honored to serve without citizenship  christianramos politics NBC Latino News

Kristian Ramos is the Policy Director of the 21st Century Border Initiative at NDN and The New Policy Institute.


  1. Steve says:

    Mr. Ramos, I see you changed the wording of your article after my reply and deleted any mention of undocumented immigrants serving in our military services. Also, you deleted your comment that incorrectly identified Lance Corporal Gutierrez as an undocumented immigrant. Thank you.
    I sympathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants but do not like to hear or read false statements about this subject.
    All four of my grandparents immigrated to this country from Italy legally. At that time there was no illegal way to immigrate, they just showed up at Ellis Island. Today, people like them are not welcome here legally.
    I am equally irritated when I hear comments suggesting that undocumented immigrants go back home and get in a line that does not exist for them.
    I believe that journalists and politicians have the obligation to research a subject before expressing an opinion.
    I am retired from a career in the U.S. Army and have the utmost respect for soldiers like Lance Corporal Gutierrez and thousands of other immigrant soldiers like him.

  2. Steve says:

    Undocumented immigrants are not permitted to join the Armed Forces of the United States. Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez was born in Guatemala and held permanent U.S. Resident status which he obtained in 1999.
    Your claim that between 29,000-38,000 undocumented immigrants are serving in the U.S. Military is totally false.
    Read Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez bio

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