Immigrants Serve Abroad While Fighting Deportation At Home

Pfc. Kham Xiong, was one of 11 children of Hmong refugees. He followed in the footsteps of a younger brother and his father, who fought Communists in Laos during the Vietnam War and fled with his family to Thailand, where Kham Xiong was born

Xiong was only 23 when he died in the gunfire at Fort Hood last week.

One bad apple does not represent all apples but it might be hard to gain that wisdom from mainstream media coverage around the Fort Hood tragedy, which gets no awards for racial or religious sensitivity. Today, as we honor our veterans and fallen soldiers, Muslims in the military fear a backlash in return of their service. It is crucial to lay rest to a cloud of xenophobia that threatens the safe existence of immigrants in the military, where they have served proudly since the Revolutionary War.

A newly released timely report from the Immigration Policy Center, Essential to the Fight: Immigrants in the Military, Eight Years After 9/11, highlights the critical role immigrants are playing in today’s military. Non-citizens make up 5% of all troops in the U.S. military and since 9-11, over 150 immigrants have been killed while serving. The report notes that “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.”

Some notable statistics from the report:

  • As of June 30, 2009, there were 114,601 foreign-born individuals serving in the armed forces, representing 7.91 percent of the 1.4 million military personnel on active duty.
  • In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 alone, 10,505 members of the military were naturalized. Naturalizations of immigrants in the military are at their highest during times of war.”

The report also regrets Congressional failure to pass the DREAM Act, which could have provided up to 279,000 newly eligible persons for service in the armed forces back in 2006 (Migration Policy Institute). The number of undocumented students eligible and willing to serve are probably higher now.

But while we lament this loss of human capital, a new adjustment of status bill (S.2757) introduced by Senator Menendez (D-NJ), gives a pathway to citizenship to the immediate families of immigrants serving in the military. Alemayehu Addis, an immigrant veteran, explains how and why passage of this bill is a great way to honor the service of immigrants in the armed forces

Simply, the bill aims to keep the families of US service members together while they fight for our freedom. At the very least, service members have earned the right to be united with their closest family members on a permanent basis without fearing that they will face unfair and unexpected deportation.:

We should continue easing the pathway to citizenship for immigrants who serve and their families. At the same time, we should also not place them in deportation proceedings without good reason. Muhammad Zahid Chaudhry, a former National Guard soldier, is fighting deportation from the United States because he told the truth and failed to disclose old misdemeanor convictions in Australia when he applied for a visa a decade ago. His case illustrates the horror of an immigration bureaucracy that has entrapped thousands of perfectly legal immigrants till they applied for citizenship.

As Barack Obama noted in his weekly radio address:

They are Americans of every race, faith, and station. They are Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers. They are descendants of immigrants and immigrants themselves. They reflect the diversity that makes this America. But what they share is a patriotism like no other.

They deserve more than family separation, xenophobia, second-class citizenship and worse, deportation.

(Photo Credit: KevinDooley Flickr Photostream CC Attribute)

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