Ruben Hernandez

Patriotism: red, white & azul

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Few others can claim the patriotism demonstrated by our Hispanic citizens. Consistent with this, they’ve received awards for heroism and bravery far in excess to their proportion of the population.

—President Ronald Reagan,
Sept. 16, 1981

Latinos have a long history of immigration to the United States, and an equally long tradition of proudly showing their allegiance by joining the ranks of soldiers who have fought the enemies of our nation.

From the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, Latino sons and daughters have received special recognition and awards for their bravery, including the Medal of Honor – the highest military honor bestowed by the U.S. government – in much greater proportion than their percentage of the U.S. population.

What is less known is that in the past century, non-naturalized Latino immigrants have embraced an expedited path to citizenship by joining the U.S. armed forces in wartime and in peacetime.

Military men and women make great sacrifices in wartime, dedicating years of their lives, risking danger, living in hostile environments, enduring wounds, and in some cases offering the ultimate sacrifice – dying, fighting for the United States. Recognizing the immense sacrifices that military members make, the U.S. government has a special application process that expedites the U.S. citizenship procedure for those who serve in the military.

In July 2002, immigrants eager to prove their loyalty to their adopted homeland were heartened when President George Bush signed the Expedited Naturalization Executive Order, allowing legal residents who enlisted and served honorably in the “war on terrorism,” invoked by the 911 attacks, to hasten the citizenship process.

This policy was pushed because troops were needed for combat in the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citizenship could be granted within six months in wartime, shortening the normal wait of about five years or more. In peacetime, documented immigrants in the military could petition to naturalize after three years of aggregate military service instead of the requisite five years of legal permanent residence.

The large numbers of non-naturalized immigrants who joined the military saw service as a way to prove their loyalty to their adopted country.

While this special process was termed the “green card draft” by some, the term was misleading. The executive order applied only to legal residents who already held green cards, legal documentation to reside here. Some critics interpreted the term to mean non-green card holders could get them by enlisting, which was not the case.

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