SEATTLE – A Mexican who joined the U.S. Army and fought in Iraq after buying a fake green card (search) for $50 will be allowed to remain in the United States.
Pfc. Juan Escalante took the citizenship oath (search) at an afternoon ceremony. Earlier in the day the 19-year-old passed — with perfect scores — a required civics and history test.
The teen held the green certificate confirming his citizenship in his right hand and twirled a small American flag in his left. He quietly shed tears after the ceremony as he hugged his parents.
"It's just paper but, I don't know, it feels good," he said.
The Army normally requires that any illegal immigrants (search) who get caught after fraudulently enlisting be discharged. Once discharged, they may be deported.
But the military helped Escalante pursue citizenship, arguing that he was a valuable soldier who would do the country more good as a citizen than as a deported immigrant.
However, immigration authorities are still planning to deport his parents. Escalante's attorney said he will appeal that decision.
There are 37,401 noncitizens in the active-duty military, and about 3,000 served in the war in Iraq. It is not known how many are illegal immigrants.
President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 speeding the citizenship process for active-duty personnel. The order helped Escalante avoid the long process of having to get a green card before seeking citizenship.
Escalante was 4 when he crossed illegally into the United States with his mother. He grew up in Seattle and signed a four-year contract with the Army after graduating from high school in 2002.
He served as a mechanic in Kuwait and Iraq for four months as a member of the 1st Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which launched the ground invasion that began the war.
His parents have lived in the United States for 15 years and have two younger U.S.-born children, ages 10 and 12. An immigration judge said the couple failed to show that being sent back to Mexico would cause exceptional hardship to their younger children.