Originally published by USA Today
During one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan War, Army Sgt. Israel Garcia fought his way up a terraced hillside to a wrecked observation post above the village of Wanat to help rescue a wounded paratrooper-comrade on July 13, 2007.
A native of Mexico who enlisted after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Garcia, who was 24, was struck by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade after reaching the outpost. He died there amid the fighting and posthumously earned a Silver Star for valor.
Garcia's heroism stands in stark contrast to President Trump's denigration of undocumented immigrants throughout his presidential campaign and tenure in the White House. The reality suggests a silver lining among the dispossessed who risk everything to cross our borders.
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For every immigrant gang member, there are countless stories of undocumented immigrants who willingly sacrifice for America. This certainly includes about 900 so-called DREAMers who were brought into the country as children and joined the military when they grew up.
Among them is Zion Dirgantara, a native of Indonesia whose first day of school in the United States as an eighth-grader in Philadelphia was on Sept. 11, 2001. "When I heard President Bush say, 'You're either with us or against us,' I knew where I stood," Dirgantara wrote in an opinion piece, explaining his determination to some day serve his new country in the Army Reserve.
Although immigrants commonly require permanent legal status to join the military, a Pentagon at war and ever in need of talent — especially in the form of language skills, medical training and other vital expertise — created a pilot program in 2009 allowing temporary or undocumented immigrants to enlist.
Some 10,000 responded, including the several hundred DREAMers or undocumented immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created in 2012 for those brought to the USA illegally as children. Trump canceled the program last year, although courts have kept it open for now, and Defense Secretary James Mattis has vowed that DACA enlistees won't be deported. House Republican leaders are trying to prevent a vote on measures to protect the DREAMers.
These DACA immigrants and countless other people who entered the USA illegally and managed to gain legal status have served our nation under the most honorable of circumstances. And they've done so at a time when patriotic sacrifice and a sense of purpose among American young people have been in decline.
The Trump White House publicizes crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. A news release Monday carried the headline, “What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13,” and the president is scheduled to travel to Long Island on Wednesday for a roundtable on combating the gang. Trump has warned about a “dangerous” caravan of Central American refugees seeking asylum in the USA.
But you don't hear the administration talking about stories like those of Jose Gutierrez, who fled Guatemalan poverty as a teenage orphan, hopping freight trains for the 2,000-mile journey to America. A tall and quiet boy described as extremely intelligent, Gutierrez lived in a series of group homes in America or with foster families as he learned English, finished high school and, at 18, became a legal resident. He joined the Marine Corps after 9/11, was part of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and left everything he brought to his new country on a battlefield there — killed in action on March 21, 2003.
America should be so lucky as to have taken in such an immigrant.