In my 10 years at Fox News, much of it as the network’s senior war correspondent, it has been my good fortune to spend countless days and weeks at or near the front lines in Afghanistan or Iraq in the honorable company of the brave, patriotic men and women who risk everything to keep the rest of us safe. In the forward operating bases or walking the dusty, dangerous roads with them, one of the most inspirational aspects has been watching the service of tough, often urban Latino soldiers and Marines doing their duty for God and Country.
Many of those GI’s began life as gang members, others bearing the burden of being undocumented immigrants. Coming from the rough side of the tracks, you can see the obvious scars of that hard life in their tattoos or other relics from the barrios or from the other side of the border. Yet, I’ve come to appreciate that most of them, like their comrades in the Armed Forces, are some of the finest, smartest, most able young men and women I have ever met. They serve with guts, determination and dignity; proud of being part of the crusade to keep this country safe.
Most of those undocumented soldiers and Marines serve under the radar of the toxic debate over the nation’s illegal aliens. That is largely a function of the fact military recruiters are not supposed to sign them up in the first place. And yet, don’t we all have fond memories of news reports covering that sacred moment when as a tribute to their honorable service in our military and their commitment to the U.S. Constitution, those foreign-born GI’s stand solemnly at attention, raise their right hands, and swear fidelity and to preserve and protect this country as citizens of the United States? So it has always been, in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and now; and who can deny that it makes sense for the perennially recruit-starved services and for our embattled nation?
Yet, given the current political climate, infected as it is with an almost unreasoned passion directed against any legislative initiative that seems to favor undocumented families, (or as I am constantly reminded; ‘Geraldo, what part of illegal don’t you understand?’) the DREAM Act probably stands only a remote chance of passage. How can it succeed with one typical right-wing blogger calling it the “Treason Lobby’s DREAM Act,” and claiming that among its provisions it envisions an “Illegal Alien (as opposed to Foreign) Legion?”
Along with providing deportable high school graduates of good moral character who finish two years of college provisional resident status, the DREAM Act currently being contemplated by Congress provides the same benefit to those who have served honorably in the uniformed services for two years. It is a terrific idea, but one still challenged by critics of the bill. Despite well-documented, heart-wrenching stories of courage and commitment, even some sober anti-immigration activists worry publicly about the ultimate loyalty of these non-citizen soldiers; many of whom technically retain citizenship in their country of origin, particularly Mexico and the various nations of Central America.
But there is not one scintilla of evidence to support the notion that these GI’s are less loyal than their citizen comrades-in-arms. There is, on the other hand, a plethora of proof to support their unswerving commitment to the United States. In testifying on behalf of one of the earlier versions of the DREAM Act, President George W. Bush’s Under Secretary of Defense David Chu said: “According to an April 2006 study from the National Immigration Law Center, there are an estimated fifty thousand to sixty-five thousand undocumented alien young adults who entered the U.S. at an early age and graduate from high school each year, many of whom are bright, energetic and potentially interested in military service. Provisions of S. 2611, the DREAM Act, would provide these young people the opportunity of serving the United States in uniform.”
I have dozens of stories to back my support of the DREAM Act, particularly as it applies to those who serve honorably in the U.S. military. Here is one.
At the age of 14, following the well-trodden path of hundreds of thousands of his Guatemalan countrymen, Joselito Gutiérrez began his trek to the United States alone, hopping freight trains and hitch-hiking the dangerous 2,000 miles through perilous rural Mexico. Without papers, money or friends, living by his wits and through the kindness of strangers, it took the teenager a month and 14 different trains to make it to the U.S. border near Tijuana.
Detained there by U.S. immigration authorities, José benefited from the informal rule in place during that kinder Bush-era time: we did not deport minors who arrived without adult family members. So Jose was placed in a series of group homes and foster families. Despite obvious challenges, under the tutelage of legal resident Marcelo Mosquera, a machinist from Ecuador, and his wife Nora, the lanky teenager learned English and managed to finish high school in suburban Lomita, California.
His foster parents say he wanted to become an architect and dreamed of earning enough money to bring his sole surviving sibling, his sister Engracia, here from Guatemala. But in 2002, he put his college plans on hold to join the U.S. Marines. There was a war going on. “He wanted to give to the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything,” his foster sister said.
Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutiérrez, who came to America as an illegal alien, was one of the first GI’s killed in combat in Iraq. He died in a fire fight on the third day of the war in the assault on Umm Qasr, the important Iraqi Persian Gulf naval base. His biological sister, Engracia, arrived from Guatemala in the United States in time to meet his flag-draped coffin and attend a standing-room only mass at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Lomita in April 2003. Corporal Gutiérrez was called “a great man” by immigration activist Cardinal Roger Mahony, who presided.
In a poem Jose called his “Letter to God,” which was read at his funeral, Jose wrote, “Thank you for permitting me to live another year, thank you for what I have, for the type of person I am, for my dreams that don’t die. May the firearms be silent and the teachings of love flourish.”
Later sister Engracia told reporters, “I do feel proud, because not just anyone gives up their life for another country. But at the same time it makes me sad because he fought for something that wasn’t his.”
It became his. Lance Corporal José Gutiérrez was posthumously awarded U.S. citizenship. Before they cast their votes on the DREAM Act, I want every senator to read José’s story. If they still chose to vote against the act, to adjust that sentence from my frequent anti-immigration critics, ‘Sir, what part of patriot don’t you understand?’
Geraldo Rivera is a columnist for Fox News Latino.