By Lt. Col. L. Carter Crewe III, USAF (Ret.)
“We do not have you in our database as a U.S. citizen.”
The retired two-star Army general who quoted these words was sitting next to me during a recent veterans panel discussion calling for immigration policies that enhance military readiness. He got that frustrating answer, one that inaccurately reflected his citizenship status, when applying for Medicare benefits. One of our nation’s highest-ranking immigrant officers, with a distinguished military career spanning more than 34 years, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, USA (Ret.), had to prove his citizenship so that he could receive the benefits he earned as a naturalized citizen.
But clerical errors are the least of the unforeseen challenges and obstacles encountered by immigrant service members and their families. Continued inaction on the part of Congress to reform our outdated federal immigration system is also weakening our ability to strengthen our national security and our efforts to enhance our military readiness as we prepare to face global challenges.
Immigration laws are relevant to everyone who serves our country in uniform. Immigrant soldiers have served in every conflict since our nation was founded. Consequently, both reservist’s and veteran’s communities must find a unified voice on this issue.
To seek answers on the many challenges faced by our immigrant service members, a new group, Veterans for New Americans, supports immigration policies that will benefit our veterans, service members and the military overall. A project of the National Immigration Forum, Veterans for New Americans is a national network of veterans from each branch of the military who are committed to ensuring that immigrants are fully included in our military readiness plans, to effectively meet any global or national security challenges.
In addition, we support immigrant service members by advocating for stronger efforts to inform them about how they can become citizens -- and encourage them to do so.
Finally, we support measures to ensure that new American veterans receive the care they deserve for service-related conditions, as well as support to reduce the risk of behaviors that may lead to deportation for the approximately 82,000 veterans who are legal permanent residents.
Recruitment, retention and developing the cultural intelligence required for global operations are continuing challenges for our armed forces. For example, the U.S. Army is now challenged to recruit 80,000 new soldiers, including the 15,400 needed for the U.S. Army Reserve. Each year, about 80,000 undocumented youth come of age without a clear path to legalize their immigration status. Many graduate from our high schools with strong academic records, have no criminal record and are able meet and exceed the physical requirements needed to join our military. Legislation like the ENLIST Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (CA-10), would allow undocumented youth to earn legalized status with military service, would help them fully integrate into and contribute to American society.
Given the dual role reservists have in society as citizen soldiers, we have an opportunity to voice our concerns on issues and situations connected with national security and military readiness that have a direct impact on the Reserve Component.
Immigration is no exception: reservists have the opportunity to support, encourage and educate our immigrant communities on the importance of supporting our men and women in uniform. As reservists and veterans, we can have a positive impact on our communities by serving as role models for immigrant youth and encouraging them to pursue military service as a rewarding way to stand up and contribute to their new country.
As a retired Air Force officer and reservist, I have gained a special appreciation for my immigrant brothers and sisters in uniform who have put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of all Americans. We should all be proud of the countless contributions and acts of selfless sacrifice made by immigrants on active duty, in the reserves and National Guard, as well as veterans and their families. Today, more than ever, we must honor their tremendous contributions by updating our national immigration laws to fully address the unique immigration challenges new American veterans and their families face — and to help ensure our continuing force readiness.
Lt. Col. L. Carter Crewe III, USAF (Ret.), is Co-Chair, Veterans Advisory Committee for Veterans Association of North County (Oceanside, California) and a member of ROA and Veterans for New Americans.
To join Veterans for New Americans as a Reservist and veteran, please contact Octavio Hinojosa, National Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.