By Brett Hunt, Iraq War Veteran and former Captain in the U.S. Army.

“I’m a Cuban refugee who came to this country when I was 10-years-old and flunked the sixth grade because I couldn’t speak English.” That’s a quote that won’t surprise many Americans on both sides of the immigration debate.

In fact, many opposed to immigration reform would point to it as proof that giving a path to citizenship to immigrants in this country right now would only serve to somehow lower the quality of people inside our borders.

They would be wrong. The quote above is from Army Brig. Gen. Bernardo Negrete, a former special-operations officer with four combat tours of duty, who rose up to become one of the few Hispanic generals in American history.

General Negrete is a shining example of what immigrants have to contribute to our country and living proof of the American Dream. In today’s flawed immigration system, we don’t know how many future military leaders live in the shadows due to their immigration status.

What we do know, however, is that by perpetuating a flawed system that forces those immigrants to lay low, we’re keeping scores of them from the pride and honor of military service. Today’s military offers a leg up to all young people and particularly to immigrants who want to serve their newly adopted homeland.

Our Armed Forces are still fighting a determined enemy in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq has only recently concluded.  Our Armed Forces are deployed around the world securing shipping lanes in Asia, monitoring Iran from the Middle East and conducting humanitarian aid missions in the Horn of Africa— reminding us that our military is at work even when they are not deployed in a war zone.

By creating an accountable, fair and realistic path to citizenship, we could potentially add tens of thousands of new service members to the ranks to conduct these critical, ongoing missions.

During my time as an Army officer, the units I served in benefited directly from the diversity they reflected. I served with soldiers from Kenya, Honduras, Mexico, Vietnam and the Ukraine, and they were some of the most dedicated and patriotic troops I came in contact with.

Immigrant soldiers were on the green at Lexington, on the sunken road at Shilo, at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima and Da Nang. Right now, in fact, immigrant troops are holding the line in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Our elected leaders have a duty to honor immigrant soldiers’ history of sacrifice, in the name of liberty, by fixing our outdated immigration system. It is the right thing to do for the future of our Armed Forces, our nation’s security and  America’s fighting men and women and their families.

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