For the third time in his presidency, Barack Obama presided over a naturalization ceremony for foreign-born members of the United States military at the White House. Twenty-five active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines took the oath of citizenship in the East Room on the Fourth of July.
After 9-11, the government fast tracked foreign-born military personnel for citizenship “to recognize their contribution and sacrifice.” About 8,000 immigrants enlist each year. They must be legal immigrants with a permanent residence, and until obtaining citizenship they are barred from becoming officers. There are currently an estimated 29,000 foreign-born persons in the military.
There are no statistics for the number of foreign-born men and women who have fought in our wars over the past 236 years, though they were probably a majority in the beginning and decreasing over time. During World War II, recruiters didn’t even bother asking about citizenship. That didn’t interest them as much as high school graduation. Both my uncles and my father had their GEDs handed to them with their enlistment papers. One uncle was born in the Dominican Republic and the other in Puerto Rico. The first person to ask for any proof of their birthplaces were the priests who married them and wanted proof of baptism.
In an all-volunteer army, service is a choice. It is sometimes a choice made for economic reasons, because the military is a job with decent benefits and the opportunity to get an education for a better job after enlistment. For some, it is a matter of honor, of defending a chosen country or serving the civilian needs of people around the world through our military’s role in humanitarian crises. These 25 men and women made that choice, and because they were brought here legally, they have been bumped to the head of the line for citizenship. Their comrades-in-arms who were brought here illegally deserve the same. They did not choose to break the law to be here, but they have chosen to defend the only country they know.
President Obama has honored these new citizens, as he has honored the previous two groups whose naturalizations he attended. At the same time, he is making a point. There is no difference between these young people and those who would benefit from The Dream Act. It is our nation that loses by not passing the law.