Immigrants Fight for U.S., Deserve Welcome
Raymond J. Keating
Powerful words like "courage," "bravery" and "honor" can be cheapened.
In sports, for example, announcers occasionally will call golf shots "courageous."
politics, a vote to raise taxes can be labeled by some as "brave."
But such silliness is not the case when describing our military during
this time of war, including immigrants who have joined the armed forces.
The bravery exhibited
by immigrants willing to defend America serves as a reminder why we should continue to welcome newcomers.
Consider the story of Lance Cpl. Jose A. Gutierrez of the U.S. Marines,
whose courage predated military service. According to a variety of news
Gutierrez's parents died when he was a boy in Guatemala. Later, he embarked on a long, uncertain journey and entered the United States illegally in 1997. He
eventually was granted legal resident status. Make no mistake, leaving one's home to seek a new life in another country is a courageous act.
That wasn't enough for Gutierrez, though. He became a Marine. His foster
brother, Max Mosquera, told the Associated Press last week, "He joined
the Marines to
pay back a little of what he'd gotten from the U.S. For him, it was a question of honor."
Tragically, Gutierrez became the second U.S. casualty of the war in
Iraq. In the end, he made the ultimate sacrifice for his adopted country.
Last week, Gutierrez
was awarded U.S. citizenship posthumously, along with another Marine who gave his life, Cpl. Jose A. Garibay.
In many ways, Gutierrez must have been a unique human being. But he
was by no means alone among immigrants in joining the military. More than
immigrants reportedly are members of the U.S. armed forces, including more than 31,000 non-citizens.
Indeed, U.S. military service by immigrants has a long history. For
example, according to a report from the American Immigration Law Foundation,
non-citizen military participants in World Wars I and II, and 31,000 members of the U.S. military who fought in the Korean War, became naturalized American
citizens." Some 500,000 immigrants served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The foundation also noted: "More than 20 percent of the recipients of the
Congressional Medal of Honor in U.S. wars have been immigrants."
During the Clinton administration, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, an immigrant
who became a U.S. citizen in 1958, rose to become chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
As is the case with many immigrants, during a naturalization ceremony in 1996, Shalikashvili exhibited a solid understanding of the foundation upon which this country
is built: "Our success as a nation is based on the fact that although we come from so many different lands, we share a common set of beliefs about freedom and
about the dignity of man."
President George W. Bush called military service the "ultimate act of
patriotism." For immigrants, it is that and much more - it is a courageous
declaration of solidarity
with their new nation. As previous presidents similarly did during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War, Bush issued an
executive order in July allowing active-duty non-citizen military personnel to immediately apply for citizenship, waiving the normal three-year waiting period. Only
citizens can become officers or serve in certain special services like the Navy SEALs.
After Sept. 11, 2001, with war being waged in Iraq and against terrorists
around the globe, and our economy performing sluggishly, it can be easy
to slip into an
anti-immigrant isolationism. That must not be the case. The United States has a long, honorable history as a nation of immigrants. Looking ahead, there is no reason
why the United States cannot tighten up illegal immigration for homeland security purposes while opening our arms more broadly to legal immigration.
Immigrants make tremendous contributions to our nation, not only culturally
and economically, but quite clearly by many willing to lay their lives
on the line in defense
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.