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Commentary: Immigration reform could enable soldiers to serve

Jul. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
US Soldiers gain citizenship
Soldiers take the Oath of Citizenship during their naturalization ceremony at the United States Embassy in Kuwait. (Sgt. William White / Army)
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Retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba (Army)


Taguba retired from the Army in 2007 after 34 years on active duty. He is the chairman of the Pan Pacific American Leaders and Mentors, a non-profit that fosters professional development of military and civilian leaders.

For my father and me, as for many thousands of Filipinos who have served in the U.S. armed forces, one of our major contributions to this country was our military service.

My father fought in World War II in the Philippines, as a private in the Philippine Scouts in February 1942 under the command of the United States Army Force Far East as directed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 26, 1941.

He was captured at Bataan along with 72,000 troops. The prisoners endured the Bataan Death March where many died along the way. In July 1945, he was repatriated into USAFFE command. He was offered the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen, an opportunity he honorably accepted.

Like many immigrants in the United States, my father wanted a better life for his family, and he happily served the country that provided those opportunities. He retired from the Army in June 1962 as a sergeant first class.

I came to the United States through Hawaii in 1961, and became a naturalized citizen in 1962. Following in my father’s tradition, I joined my high school’s Junior Army ROTC program for three years, and continued through college for another four years. In May 1972, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I served in the Army for 34 years, deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2003-2004, served at every level of command and staff positions, and eventually retired as a two-star general in January 2007.

A few months ago, Republican leadership refused to allow a vote on the ENLIST Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, and it’s unclear whether leadership will allow it to come to the floor as a stand-alone bill. For me, this is a personal issue, not a political one, and it goes to the core of our values as a nation — patriotism, honor, courage, integrity and selfless service.

For those of us who have served this country and continue to answer the call to duty, those willing to fight for our freedom should be allowed to be United States citizens.

My father and I proudly served our country with honor and dignity. The ENLIST Act would provide a path to citizenship for dreamers — young undocumented immigrants — who are willing to serve and fight. Like my father and I, dreamers came to the United States from another country, and like us they want to give back and help protect the country they call home. We are willing to serve in uniform, to protect our way of life at home, and sacrifice our lives for others. Serving our country in uniform means guaranteeing our mission with our lives.

It’s been a year since the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, and Republicans in the House remain hell-bent on blocking any kind of progress on reform.

Republicans keep saying they support fixing our broken immigration system, but they’re more interested in catering to the far-right Republicans than doing what’s right. Republicans’ inaction on this issue is outrageous, and their rhetoric is insulting and distasteful.

I see immigration reform as a nonpartisan but important issue to all Americans whose immigrant ancestors came to America looking for a better life

The ENLIST Act is the bare minimum we can do on this issue and there is no reason Republicans shouldn’t move at the very least that piece of legislation.

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