At a Veterans Day naturalization ceremony at Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad, the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, led 178 troops in the oath of allegiance. Each new American received a certificate, a flag and the hearty praise of Brig. Gen. Gregory Couch, who hailed them as “these wonderful warriors.”About 40,000 non-citizens are serving in the United States military, continuing a tradition of immigrant soldiering that dates to the dawn of the republic. About 4,000 troops since 2004 have earned citizenship while stationed abroad.

Presumably all of them were legal residents, since the military does not knowingly accept the undocumented. But some who entered the country illegally do manage to enlist — including soldiers like Lance Cpl. Jose Antonio Gutierrez, a Marine who was one of the first killed in the early hours of the Iraq war in March 2003. He was from Guatemala, and won his American citizenship posthumously.

There is an irony to the Pentagon’s policies toward the undocumented. The military’s ranks and morale have been ruinously sapped by the misadventure in Iraq. To keep the recruiting pipeline filled, it has repeatedly lowered its standards on things like candidates’ aptitude, education and health, and granted “moral waivers” to tens of thousands of recruits with criminal records.

But while the military has been taking a gamble, a la “The Dirty Dozen,” on the potential for ex-convicts — including some violent felons — to redeem themselves, a pool of highly motivated and well-qualified candidates lies out of reach: men and women like Corporal Gutierrez.

The Pentagon has been more progressive about immigration than the rest of the federal government. Many military leaders supported a bill to give a select group of young immigrants — high school graduates who were brought here illegally by their parents, grew up here, had exemplary records and were eager to serve — the chance to enlist and become legalized after two years in uniform.

That was the Dream Act, but it died because Congress, under ferocious pressure from the hard-line right, refused to grant “amnesty” in any form to the blameless children of “illegal aliens.”

The message was clear — Uncle Sam may want you, and you may want Uncle Sam, but you cannot serve. If you are undocumented there is no redemption for you — not even in Iraq.

That’s pretty hard core. It’s a good example of how self-defeating the restrictions orthodoxy can be. But that’s where the national debate is stuck.

  • I think that it is the height of racism, ignorance and hypocrisy for this government to simultaneously round up immigrants of any status at the same time that it forces them into harm’s way. Those who VOLUNTARILY give their lives, or risk their lives, for a country that they are told doesn’t want them, deserve our utmost respect and yes, even amnesty. Putting your neck on the line for the United States should earn you your citizenship and everything else that this nation has to offer.
    While I believe that the innocent children of illegal immigrants deserve a break and all of the benefits of citizenship, I think that it should go double for those who enter the military and volunteer for a doomed operation that even current enlistees are abandoning in droves. I just read a separate article about how desertion rates are at an all-time high, and as the deaths in Iraq continue with no end to this illegal war in sight, how can we NOT afford to honor immigrants who are willing to fight for this country? — Posted by Hillary
  • Let’s get past the immigrant paranoia and recognize the potential this sort of system could have. The army desperately needs front-line bodies in Iraq and their crumbling recruitment standards are proof. Immigrants need a way to prove themselves worthy of citizenship that makes sense and is actually attainable to the masses. Allowing immigrants, especially illegal ones, the opportunity to earn citizenship through fighting for this country seems like the best idea to deal with the immigration “issue” that I’ve heard. Our country gains a larger and more motivated military, and immigrants gain a straightforward yet not-in-the-least-bit easy path to citizenship. And perhaps best of all, for those consumed by the immigration witchhunt, aliens who are living in the country undocumented will volunteer themselves to BECOME documented in order to serve. It’s so painfully obvious I can’t believe we haven’t been doing this since 9/12
    — Posted by Mike Jewell

  • Humans Are People Too
    by Christopher Jon Batis
    To label, designate, view, consider, describe or otherwise regard any human being as illegal or alien is fundamentally, inherently, patently, basically, and vehemently offensive, disgusting, evil, abhorrent, humiliating, inhumane, oppressive, derisive, and completely, universally devoid of any possible recognition of the divine, corrupting of the spirit, and absent of any decency or morality, and defamatory of creation.

    Do we really consider ourselves so distinct from one another to the manner in which we breathe, bleed, feel and occupy space on this planet and our place in the universe?

    Is it so difficult to recognize in each other the divinity from which we all emanate?; that we are all drops from the same ocean?; that we are all running out of the precious time we all have on this plane of existence and chose to waste it in the futility of micro-detailing our differences, focusing on the banality of our external traits, concentrating on the irrelevance of our geographical origins when most of us love our children, long for purpose, and, at one point or another, will exhale one last time?

    National sovereignty is important, but must we approach the issues of immigration with such personal anger and hatred toward one another? Can we not approach the issues of our nation with the dignity this country should be recognized for?

    Surely, as Americans, as leaders of freedom, we can approach the issues that affect us with personal integrity, intelligent discourse, and respectful regard for all lives, foreign or domestic, with the same respect we demand for ourselves?

    The jury is out. May the verdict be fitting of the fair, the just, and the pursuers of happiness

    — Posted by Christopher Jon Batis

  • We need to do some serious thinking and discussing about “illegal” immigrants. We also need hard data.
    We need reliable information on:1. Total number of illegal immigrants.
    2. How many are working?
    3. What kinds of work they do.
    4. How much they are being paid.
    5. Amount of taxes they pay, classified by Social Security, Medicare, Federal income tax, state and local income tax.

    I suspect that “illegal” immigrants fill very important needs in our economy at a very low cost. In other words, they are extremely valuable to the rest of us.

    If that is true, we should stop saying nasty things about them and accept them as valuable members of our society and legalize them. What’s the problem with that?

    — Posted by Realist

  • I am a freshman at Hunter College and is writing a paper: “Viva La American Dream.” Please excuse my naiveness due to my youth, but whatever happened to human decency that America is so well known by? It seems to me that anyone, illegal or not, should be able to dream the American dream, especially those who are willing to die for that dream.
    I had my own dream the other night and dreamed that we lived in a different world; one with an Orwellian reality and that we (Americans)were all excluded from the American dream. With globalization now confronting us, I imagine a world without borders and that some world leader have excluded us from cross over the global borders to seek a better life. I woke up in a sweat and hurriedly, to the computer to write the NY Times. — Posted by lucia bruni
  • So the NY Times thinks it’s terrible that the “hard-line” right refuses to offer amnesty to “blameless children of illegal aliens?”
    I note how the Times conveniently neglected to mention some of the logic of those who might oppose the “Dream Act.” For one, wouldn’t it be more than awkward to have a young person fighting for us while our laws demand that the illegal parents and extended family be kicked out of the country? I think we all know the public demonstrations and hoopla that would surround any effort to export any illegal family member of such service people. So realistically, in a country like ours, we must face the fact that this would be an “all or none” deal. We either accept the illegal soldier into our armed forces and allow his parents and extended family to stay or we kick all of them out.

    If the NY Times is prepared to advocate that it would allow illegal alien soldiers into our military while simultaneously kicking the soldiers’ extended family out of the country, then I’d love to read about it. But I think most readers know that the NY Times would never advocate such a position.

    I’m afraid that this issue is simply more nuanced than the NY Times would like us to believe.

    — Posted by Bill Carson

  • I doubt this post will ever make it past the censors, (they never do when the topic is illegal immigration) but I have to say I’m surprised by the tone of my fellow Americans.
    Tell me, my fellow citizen…why should I have to obey the laws that foreign aliens don’t? If I steal someone’s identity and use it to perpetuate fraud, should it be condoned and I be allowed to keep my ill-gotten goods? There are some very nice condo’s sitting empty in an adjacent building, much nicer than the ratty old studio I currently rent. If I were to break into one and squat there, should I be allowed to remain for as long as I like? These questions may sound illogical, but they exactly mirror what has been posted here. An American citizen convicted of any of the crimes illegals commit as a matter of course would be, at the least, sent to jail. Jail for a citizen, fortune for the illegal. How is that fair?You people just don’t get it. You may believe that you are championing the underdog, the helpless, the downtrodden but what you are actually doing is advocating AGAINST “equal under the law”, one of the basic tenets of democracy. If you are so contemptuous of that democratic process, of the rule of law, of our sovereignty…just be honest and say so. If you don’t believe that America has a right to decide who can come here and who we don’t want…say so. Don’t be a coward. Stand up and declare that there’s nothing wrong with criminality and that the law is only for those stupid enough to obey it. If we follow the path of the open-borders, pro-illegal crowd we’ll end up with either Anarchy or a World Government. After all, without borders there are no separate countries. Don’t be afraid to say that you WANT to see a World Government. Just be honest and quit trying to couch it as anything BUT a willingness to see the United States as a subject state.

    No amnesty. Build the fence. Enforce the law.

    — Posted by Mara

  • I was a commanding officer and in my unit I had men from various countries. No one asked them if they wanted to die, just give us your best effort. It is a shame that our President doesn’t step in and let illegal immigrants serve, then give them citizenship. I believe we all are brothers and sisters, not spurious beings. I haven’t seen any immigrants provoke a crime, just the opposite. They take jobs that have not been outsourced and add to our society. When will the American people stop listening to the right wing and consider what they are preaching? Remember when we lived in a free society? Have you ever read the writings on the Statue of Liberty. I have!
    — Posted by J. Harry Sutherland  

  • In all foreign wars, and even in the civil war, the rich in America have used substitutes to do the real fighting. Making the immigrants – legal or illegal – fight is nothing new under the sun. If you don’t like this, then stop this imperial hubris. — Posted by Julia
  • I suppose the commonly-used phrase “they do jobs that ordinary Americans don’t want to do” includes being willing to fight and even die for our country. As a veteran, I am ashamed that we have so many who are willing to go to war, but so few who are willing to do the fighting. Of course, an illegal occupation of Iraq is not exactly a traditional “war” is it?
    — Posted by Don Skillin
  • I agree with the first post by Hillary. The undocumented should be allowed to serve and their families should be allowed to stay here. This whole “illegal immigrant” war is a way of distracting Americans from the real problems created and nurtured by the ruling oligarchy. And a way for Lou Dobbs to increase his ratings and sell more cars. And yes, do remember the words on the Statue of Liberty. My ancestors were illegal immigrants in the 1620s when they came over here and killed the people who were living here. The undocumented work, pay taxes, and also DRIVE here (and so should prove they know how to drive and have insurance — we think if we don’t allow them to have driver’s licenses they will decide to go home?). Biometrics would be helpful in preventing document forgeries..the technology exists and we should use it. We need to rethink this issue and not be duped into thinking that our problems are due to the undocumented. The problem is with our devious, greedy rulers and not with undocumented people joining our armed forces.
    — Posted by Bev

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