Honoring the Legacy of Immigrants Serving in the Armed Forces

Each year on Veterans Day our country celebrates the men and women who have contributed to making our Armed Forces the finest the world has ever seen. The success of our military, and indeed, our nation as a whole, is rooted in the dynamism, courage and sacrifice demonstrated by generations of immigrants who have answered the call of duty.

Since the birth of our democracy, immigrants from all corners of the world have fought for American independence and defended our ideals.  As of May 2013, more than 30,000 lawful permanent residents were serving in our Armed Forces. This Administration recognizes that to selflessly commit yourself to defending a country that is not yet fully your own is to act beyond the call of duty.  Today, we thank our immigrant veterans for protecting and strengthening their adopted homeland.

Elizabeth “Liz” Perez-Halperin, a Wounded Warrior veteran and White House Champion of Change, is a shining example of the drive immigrants bring to our Armed Forces. Liz’s father joined the U.S. military shortly after immigrating to the United States from Mexico. He came to this country in search of the American Dream, and compelled by its promise, chose to serve under its flag. 

Sharing a similar sense of patriotism, Liz followed in her father’s footsteps and decided to work for the U.S. Navy.  For eight years she was in charge of refueling aircrafts and through that experience, came to realize that our national security was inextricably linked to our oil dependency. Using the knowledge she gained in the Navy, she founded GC Green Incorporated, a company that provides job training and placement assistance to veterans in the renewable energy industry. Her efforts remind us that the contributions of our servicemen and women don’t end when they take off their uniform, and nor should our dedication to their continued success.

Stories like this fuel President Obama’s commitment to foreign-born servicemen, women and families. In 2002, then-President Bush issued an Executive Order that allowed for the immediate naturalization eligibility for active-duty U.S. military service members, as well as those who had recently been discharged. Expanding upon the Bush Administration’s admirable efforts, President Obama has continued to support immigrants serving in the Armed Forces through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initiatives that streamline procedures and help qualified individuals navigate our complex immigration system.  Since 2002, more than 92,700 men and women have become citizens while wearing the uniform of the U.S. military.

This week, USCIS will welcome approximately 8,000 new U.S. citizens during 120 naturalization ceremonies throughout the nation and overseas. At a ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery, Acting Secretary Rand Beers will issue the Oath and USCIS Deputy Director will recognize Dr. Rahul Jindal, a transplant surgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, as an Outstanding American by Choice.

In honor of this holiday and the country’s immigrant veterans, the White House is releasing a fact sheet that pays tribute to their accomplishments and outlines the current immigration services for foreign-born service members and their families. At the same time, we acknowledge that there is still more work to be done to fully honor these immigrants’ legacy. Immigration revitalizes our nation and positions our Armed Forces to lead in the 21st century, which is one of the many reasons the President believes in commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed immigration reform legislation with strong bipartisan support that was largely consistent with President Obama’s principles for reform. The bill would continue to strengthen border security, create a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, hold employers accountable, and modernize our legal immigration system so that it better meets the needs of families, employers, and workers. Key provisions of the legislation would have significant and lasting benefits for the Armed Forces. For example, DREAMERS are provided an expedited path to citizenship under the legislation and would increase the military’s pool of eager and talented youth.  

For the first time, Republicans in the House of Representatives have joined Democrats and endorsed a bill similar to the one passed in the Senate. A growing number of Congressional Republicans are urging their leadership to act. The President is open to new ideas and willing to work with Congressional members on both sides of the aisle to finally get this done. Let’s come together to ensure that the American Dream endures for all those who want to work hard and better serve this nation.

Tanya Bradsher is Associate Director of Public Engagement
Related Topics: Immigration, Veterans
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