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Albany Legal Blog

Immigrants in the U.S. Military: Sacrificing All for a Country that May Not Yet Be Theirs

On Behalf of | May 27, 2013 | Immigration

Memorial day cemetery

On Memorial Day, we remember those men and women who have died in our nation’s service.  Did you know that non-citizens have a long and proud tradition of serving in the U.S. military?  In fact, there are thousands of men and women in uniform who were not born in the United States who are willing to sacrifice everything for our country.

Did you also know that one of the first U.S. service members to die in the U.S. – Iraq War was Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, a non-citizen from Guatemala?  He was killed in a tank battle in Iraq in March, 2003.  According to CBS News, “The heroism and sacrifice of non-citizens was barely known — until Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez died in battle in Iraq.  He came from Guatemala, and he came to the United States illegally.  We can tell you how his story ended. He was killed in a tank battle in southern Iraq on March 21, [2003].”

Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously. “No death of any soldier goes un-mourned. But the death of a man who died for a country that was not his — that proved especially poignant to many Americans, including President [George W.] Bush, who visited two wounded non-citizen soldiers and made them citizens on the spot.”

The presence of non-citizens in the U.S. military has deep historical roots.  Non-citizens have fought in the U.S. Armed forces since the Revolutionary War.  According to a report issued by the Immigration Policy Center, in August, 2009, there were 114,601 foreign-born individuals serving in the military; of that number, 12% of them were not U.S. citizens.

The military, and indeed our entire country, greatly benefits from the service of non-citizens in the U.S. military.  Non-citizen recruits offer racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity, something that is incredibly valuable given the U.S. military’s increasingly global agenda.

This has not gone unnoticed by Congress.  Once again, according to the Immigration Policy Center, “[o]ver the [eight year period from 9/11], Congress has amended military related enlistment and naturalization rules to allow expanded benefits for immigrants and their families and encourage recruitment of immigrants into the U.S. Armed Forces. The U.S. military has also implemented new programs to encourage the enlistment and rapid naturalization of non-citizens who serve honorably during[.]  Without the contributions of immigrants, the military could not meet its recruiting goals and could not fill its need for foreign-language translators, interpreters, and cultural experts.”

We are a nation of immigrants.  The U.S. military is no exception.  The U.S. military benefits (actually all of us benefit) from the presence of non-citizens within the ranks of the military.  Today, as we remember the fallen, let us remember the importance of immigration and non-citizens to our nation and to our history.  Let us also remember (and honor) the non-citizens that have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great country.