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Immigration and Our Military

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As the immigration debate once again heats up, and the President prepares to meet with Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham on the issue today, one perspective that is often missing is that of how this plays into the strength of our military.

At first blush, sure, it seems a pretty big stretch to say that immigration reform will mean anything when it comes to our ability to meet our military commitments around the world now, and in the future, but it's true. And, that's why many veterans will stand with faith, immigrant, labor leaders and others on March 21 at the March For America, pushing for Immigration Reform.

By offering a path to citizenship for the many undocumented immigrants that are in our country right now, we are giving them a path to come out of the shadows, and become more active in American life -- including military service.

We don't know exactly how many potential troops we're robbing our military of, as it fights dangerous enemies around the world, by continuing an immigration policy that leads far too many undocumented immigrants to stay in the shadows. What we do know, however, is that the current system keeps many of them from the benefits military service offers in terms of education, a living wage, health care, and pensions, which many would find generous enough to consider service. According to Senator Dick Durbin, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants could become recruits.

As we're fighting two wars and reminded that natural disasters like the one in Haiti also require our military, the overextension of our forces is quite apparent. Those in our Army and Marines, doing multiple tours with little rest, have led to a military that is stretched to the breaking point.

By opening up the path to citizenship, and adding tens of thousands of new service members, those currently in our Armed Forces can get some much-needed relief. A young man from Oklahoma who is away from his wife and kids because of his fifth tour in Afghanistan might get rotated out and given a much needed rest on the home-front, if we allow immigrants to come out the shadows and serve.

We're not talking about just adding bodies, here, either. Throughout our nation's history, and in the wars we're fighting right now, immigrants have proven to be among the most able and patriotic service-members. In fact, one immigrant in the military once said, "I'm a Cuban refugee who came to this country when I was 10 years old and flunked the sixth grade because I couldn't speak English." That immigrant was Army Brigadier General Bernardo Negrete, who was a special operations officer with four tours of duty, before rising up to be one the few Hispanic Generals in American history.

I make all these points, first and foremost, because I love our military, and care about the people serving right now. I want the United States to continue to have the strongest military in the world. There are many other civilians out there, who care about those same issues, yet don't know where they come down on the immigration debate. For them, and for those who want to see our immigration laws reformed, the positive effect immigration reform will have on our military is far too important to ignore.

Crossposted at VetVoice.com