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Monday, May 27, 2013

Immigration and the American Military - Memorial Day Immigrants

Memorial Day parades pay tribute to American military veterans and those fallen in battles, but little, if any thing, is said or done to honor our immigrants who serve.

A Memorial Day Huffington Post headline:

U.S. Army Offers Citizenship Track For Immigrants With Specialized Skills

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolyne Chelulei came to the United States from Kenya on a student visa for a college education, but now the Army is offering her the chance to stay for good as a citizen. The 23-year-old is one of several hundred immigrants whose specialized skills, either in languages or in their professional background, make them eligible for a Pentagon program that repays service in uniform with an accelerated path to citizenship.

"I am excited about it," Chelulei said while visiting in her recruiter's office. "I like helping people, and I think I will be a great asset to America, to the Army."

While debate swirls in Congress about changing the nation's immigration policies, the Army is going ahead with offering some legal immigrants, living temporarily in the U.S., a path to citizenship, if they can fill certain critical jobs.

When my husband and I lived in the Philippines, our maid, named Norma, saved her weekly pay to have one electric light bulb installed in her house. Her purpose was to provide her son with enough light so he could study and speak English.  If he passed the English language exam, he had a good chance of being allowed to enlist in the US Navy.  

There are many times in American history when the military relied on immigrant or minority populations to aid in our nation's national security.  Let's begin with the French, who helped General George Washington's during the siege of Yorktown, in 1781, to win the American Revolutionary War, against Great Britain.  Japanese Americans served in all branches of the US military during World War II, while our nation was at war with Japan.  As World War II progressed, many young Japanese immigrants' children, who were born with American citizenship, volunteered to serve in the United States military. Japanese Americans served in all the branches of the United States armed forces, including with US Merchant Marines. Even Jim Bowie, the martyr of the Battle of the Alamo, was a Mexican citizen. Bowie became a Mexican  citizen after moving to Texas in 1830, and married Ursula Veramendi, the daughter of the Mexican vice governor of the province.  

My uncle, Pasquale Anselmi, was born in Italy, a World War II Axis nation; but, as an American, he earned a Purple Heart when he fought in the US Army, during the Allied invasion of Europe.  My Father-in-Law, William L'Heureux, was born in Connecticut, the son of French Canadian immigrants, and was a veteran of World War I.  My husband's French-Canadian grandmother, Emma Morin, of Biddeford, ME, was a Gold Star mother, after her son Napolean was killed in the Second Battle of the Marne, in France.

In spite of our nation's heroic immigrant ancestry, our US Congress, comprised overwhelmingly with people who are descendants of immigrant ancestors, are flooding meaningful immigration reform legislation with hundreds of daunting amendments. This obstruction makes no sense.

Aurura Bogado reports in "The Nation" blog, about how deportations continue while this Congressional debate is stalled:  "Congress has a long road ahead on immigration reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee started to consider some 300 amendments challenging the nearly 900-page bill crafted by the Gang of Eight. Lawmakers are hopeful that legislation will pass both houses by the end of summer. But, until then, the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants may continue full force. A group of advocates is now making a renewed call on President Obama to suspend deportations of those people who would gain status in the bill’s final version later this year,"she writes.

Although deportations continue, illegal border crossings continue, in spite of huge amounts of money put toward border security.  CBS news reported on May 1, 2013,  how the number of border crossings are actually increasing!  In Texas, just the debate itself is drawing new immigrants over the border.  Juan Mercado lives on border property his family has owned since the 1850s. Immigrants often sneak across there. But since January, the number has tripled, reports CBS News.

Illegal immigration through Mexico will never disappear.  Millions of people are Americans today, because their ancestors were among the people who crossed the southwest borders to find jobs and, eventually, citizenship. Republicans need to face up to this reality.  Illegal immigration via our nation's border with Mexico will never disappear, regardless of how much money we put towards deterrence and deportation. 

Americans need immigrants.  They're contributing to our national security and supplying workers for jobs Americans need to keep service industries solvent.  Moreover, while America's birth rate is flat and, in rare cases, even in negative numbers (as in Maine, for example) immigrants are growing in numbers.  Republicans aren't very good at math, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how the new immigrants will eventually be the "new-new" face of America.  Our US military is an example of this reality.  Take a close look at the picture of the US Military Academy at West Point:

This picture is the face of America today. These West Point future officer cadets are obviously and justifiably proud of their tradition of service. They're also descendants of immigrants who deserve our nation's tribute on Memorial Day.  Moreover, they are the proud example of our nation's tradition of accepting immigrants who have eventually become national heroes.

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