This Memorial Day, as we honor our military heroes, I’d like to ask you to take a moment to appreciate the lives sacrificed for our country by those who were not born within our borders.
Please remember the immigrant soldiers who were on the green at Lexington, on the sunken road at Shiloh, at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima and Da Nang.
As an Iraq War veteran and an immigrant, I’d like you to think about the immigrant troops holding the line in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. The second soldier to die in Iraq was an undocumented Guate malan immigrant; he was awarded citizenship posthumously.
As of last year, about 29,000 people serving in our military did not have U.S. citizenship. Without immigrants, our military could not meet its recruitment goals and would lack the rich diversity it benefits from today. As America fights two wars, American soldiers from diverse backgrounds who speak critical languages like Arabic, Pashto or Urdu are vital for the success of our overall mission.
As an immigrant from India, I joined our armed forces to serve and protect this great country that was my new home.
I joined the Virginia Army National Guard in the year 2000, right after finishing high school, although I only had a green card. As I was being deployed to Iraq in 2004, I had still not been granted U.S. citizenship. I spoke with my commander, and he interceded for me so that my citizenship was expedited. I’m grateful to him for that.
But I worry about the families of soldiers who are not so fortunate.
When I see anti-immigrant state laws like Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which will lead to racial profiling, it might be easy to forget that those affected by this law could be the mother of a Marine killed in combat, or the son of an Army medic serving in Afghanistan. These families sacrifice so much already for the United States, yet they are not safe from being detained if they happen to not have their identification handy. We should be honoring and helping all military families, not targeting some of them because of their immigration status.
Today, more than ever, we must pay our respects to the immigrants fighting under the American flag. We can do this through comprehensive immigration reform that will protect our servicemen and women and their families.
By creating an accountable, fair and realistic path to citizenship, we could potentially add tens of thousands of new service members, thus providing relief to our men and women in uniform and allowing those who consider the United States their home the opportunity to defend its values abroad.
Our leaders have a solemn duty to honor this history of sacrifice by immigrant servicemen and women and their families.
— Saif Khan is a veteran who served as a combat engineer in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-05. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of commentary on domestic and international issues that is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.