Immigration Crackdown Penalizes Veteran
Erin recently wrote about Arizona’s horrifyingly racist immigration law that was passed last week. Although that particular law has only been enacted in one state, it is symptomatic of a larger trend in immigration policy — a hardline crackdown on immigration that ultimately harms people who seek U.S. citizenship but may not have the resources to obtain it.
Take, for instance, Ekaterine Bautista, an Iraq War veteran. She immigrated to the U.S. illegally from Mexico and, under her aunt’s name, enlisted in the U.S. military. After six years in the military, including a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq, Bautista was able to apply for naturalization. Five days before her swearing-in ceremony, the federal government denied her that right.
From the Los Angeles Times:
…approval of her case depended on the discretion of citizenship officials. Bautista had served in the military under a false identity, that of her U.S. citizen aunt, Rosalia Guerra Morelos.
She passed the civics exam, completed all the paperwork and received a letter telling her to show up at the Los Angeles Convention Center on March 31. Then the call came.
“Yeah, I made a mistake,” Bautista, 35, said. “But if you look back at my records, I never did anything wrong in the military. On the contrary.”
In 2002, President Bush signed Executive Order 13269 — Expedited Naturalization of Aliens and Noncitizen Nationals Serving in an Active-Duty Status During the War on Terrorism. In other words, any serviceperson who began serving in the military on September 11, 2001 or after and is not a U.S. citizen is eligible for naturalization. Similar legislation has existed during other times of war, such as World War II and the Vietnam War. The law is not unusual and, until recently, it has been upheld.
Because Bautista enlisted under her a false name and using a false passport as identification, she may not be able to become a citizen. However, while it was perhaps not in her best interest to join the military under fraudulent pretenses, Bautista was an excellent solider and valuable member of the military. Even though the Army eventually learned the truth about her identity, Bautista received an honorable discharge and accolades from her superiors:
But in 2008, Bautista was called into an office by her superiors. They told her they knew who she really was. She asked to talk to an attorney.
“I tried to retain my military bearing at all times,” she said. “I tried not to show any emotion.”
But inside, she was scared. Would she be arrested? Kicked out of the Army? Deported? The military launched an investigation and confiscated the documents bearing her aunt’s name.
Several of her fellow soldiers and superiors wrote letters on her behalf. In one, a superior described how Bautista helped the wounded before tending to herself after the explosion and wrote that she was “an exceptional role model.” “It will be a shame for the Army to get rid of an outstanding soldier like this,” the letter read.
In the end, Bautista was honorably discharged and arrived in Los Angeles in July 2009.
Her daughter, Mizhrua Bautista, 15, who was born in the U.S., said she understands why her mother wanted to join the military so badly that she used a different name. “Not a lot of people are willing to do that and put their life in danger to help out her country,” she said. “I want to see her get her citizenship.”
Bautista may not be denied citizenship permanently, but naturalization has been postponed until further notice. This means that, even though she defended the U.S. as a member of the armed forces for six years, she is now unable to work, drive or receive veteran’s benefits. I hope that this situation is rectified quickly. Anyone who risks her or his life to defend a nation should be entitled to all of the rights and benefits that nation has to offer. Bautista admits that her decision to use an alias was a mistake, and her Army career — that mistake aside — was flawless. Immigration laws should not exist to harm anyone who seeks citizenship, and they should especially not harm those who have demonstrated their loyalty and patriotism to the U.S. Bautista made significant sacrifices for a place that was not her country of origin. The least that country can do in return is ensure her the same freedoms and rights that she worked for years to protect.