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Ahead of Final Senate Vote, U.S. Military Veterans Call on Congress to Pass Immigration Reform

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The following is a press statement from VoteVets:

With immigration reform legislation set for final passage in the U.S. Senate, all facets of the immigrant community are standing together and speaking up in support of reform and calling on the House to follow the Senate’s example.

Today, VoteVets hosted a media conference call featuring an array of military veterans sharing their perspectives on why immigration reform represents a huge step forward for both our national security and our American values.

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Ricardo Sanchez shared why the immigration debate is so important to the military community, sentiments further expressed in an op-ed published in The Hill:

It is a known fact that non-citizen legal residents have been serving and sacrificing in our military for many generations. Perhaps it was my own Mexican lineage and growing up in a Texas border town that had made me well aware of this fact. But, coupled with the sad truth that one of the first men I lost in Iraq was a legal resident with no citizenship, who was buried in Mexico and not in Arlington National Cemetery, these totally dedicated warriors gave me something to embrace and think about. As Congress considers the issue of immigration reform, I wonder about the numbers of men and women who desperately want to add to the fabric of America, and cannot, because of their undocumented status. For them, they must remain hidden and quiet.

Lt. Gen. Sanchez was joined by military veterans from Iraq and Vietnam who shared they personal reflections on why Congress should pass reform this year.

Pablo Pantoja, Iraq War Veteran and former Florida RNC Hispanic Outreach Director from Orlando, FL, changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, a major transition which he attributes to the “harsh undertones about immigrants and others,” according to a letter he authored in May of this year:

One of my comrades was not a citizen, but he served honorably. He wanted to be a full American. He wanted to have his full rights.  He wanted to call himself an American citizen.  That’s one experience that I’ll never forget.  We have seen how throughout many wars and conflicts, there are immigrants that are not citizens that want to be a part of the American Dream and express their patriotism.  They are Americans in all but the paperwork that live in the shadows and would give anything to serve our country. I think it’s important that we don’t allow immigration reform to go by the wayside.  This is the time when we can make a difference.

Added Georgi Petkov Georgiev from Elk Grove Village, IL, an Iraq War Veteran and immigrant from Bulgaria:

I can’t tell you how crucial it is that we have some kind of comprehensive process that allows people who want to serve in the military to actually obtain citizenship.  For me, it’s really important to find ways to expedite the immigration process for those in the battlefield. If I weren’t able to get my citizenship, I would have stayed on the frontlines for my whole career.  I always get asked ‘if I join the military, can I become a citizen?’ Unfortunately, the only thing I can tell them is that it’s extremely difficult.  I’m happy that Congress is taking a step forward and we’re finally urging people to do the right thing.  If we take this step forward, we need to do it right.  We need to help not only people in the military, but also make sure that all those who are qualified are able to gain the citizenship they rightfully deserve.

Hal Donahue, Vietnam War Veteran from Scranton, PA, urged Republicans to get behind reform, a message further emphasized in a Huffington Post piece he wrote earlier this month:

Every step of the way, immigrants in their children have played an important role—non-citizen legal residents have been serving and sacrificing for generations. All these people contribute to the great diversity that make this the greatest country in the world.  Let’s bring them out of the shadows, give them a path to citizenship and welcome them with open arms.  It’s the American thing to do.

Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, concluded today’s call by saying:

Many immigrants and children of immigrants join the U.S. military in order to give back to the country that they say has given them so much.  No member of the U.S. military should have to face the deportation of a spouse or parent at the hands of their own government.  The Senate immigration bill would restore commonsense to America’s immigration policies and keep military families together.  It would also allow bright young immigrants who want to serve in the military to become citizens, and fully contribute their talents to our nation’s armed forces.  Today is a good day, because the Senate is poised to approve a good immigration bill with support from over two-thirds of the U.S. Senate.  Now it’s time for the House to act.