This year on Veterans Day, over 40 naturalization ceremonies will take place and 7,500 veterans, service members, and military spouses will become the newest Americans.
While that may seems like a large number of people, it should come as no surprise as immigrant participation in the U.S. armed services is nothing new. In fact, immigrants have long-played a substantial role in the U.S military where they serve alongside the native-born. In the 1840’s, the foreign born composed half of all military recruits and during the Civil War 20 percent of the 1.5 million service members in the Union Army were immigrants.
Today, tens of thousands of foreign born soldiers proudly serve the U.S. around the world. Some have even given their lives, including Capt. Humayun Khan who was killed in Iraq in 2004 while serving in the U.S. Army.
As USCIS Director León Rodríguez put it:
“Veterans and their families experience incredible sacrifices to defend the rights and liberties that we enjoy in this great country. It’s my honor to recognize these brave women and men on Veterans Day and every day. Among them are thousands of immigrants, many of whom risked their lives and vowed to defend our nation before they were even citizens.”
Immigrants also make up a significant portion of our veteran population. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 511,000 foreign-born veterans of the U.S. armed forces resided in the United States in 2016.
Among these foreign-born veterans are individuals born in Mexico, Germany, Canada, Haiti and India, to name only the top five. And of the 18.8 million veterans in the United States, 1.5 million are children of immigrants. Together, that’s nearly two million veterans from an immigrant background.
Unfortunately, some veterans have not been well taken care of and granted their citizenship. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California exposed that the naturalization applications for dozens of immigrant veterans were misplaced or lost and were not filed. As a result, some of them were deported, and others currently face deportation. The ACLU estimates that there are hundreds of deported veterans currently living in their native countries.
On Veterans Day, we must remember the sacrifices made by our native and foreign born service members. We must also do more to ensure that those who have served and fought for our country enjoy the benefits of citizenship and reap the rewards America has for them. Our veterans deserve no less.
Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy, Kabul Afghanistan.