NPR.org – During World War II, thousands of Americans lied about their age to enlist in the military. During the Iraq war, Daniel Torres lied about something else. “I didn’t want to be just another Mexican living in the U.S. I wanted to say I’d done something for the country,” said Torres.
Torres’ parents came to the U.S. legally, but overstayed their visas — leaving him without a green card. But in 2007, with the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan peaking, a Marine Corps recruiter in Idaho was happy to rush through the formalities. Social Security number? Check. High school diploma? Check. Criminal record? None.
“Well, what about your birth certificate?” Torres remembers the recruiter asked. “I’m from Mexico,” Torres said. “He’s like, ‘Well, come back Monday.’ ” Torres came back Monday with a U.S. birth certificate — it was fake, but for a good cause, he thought.He deployed to Iraq, near Fallujah, in 2009. When his unit came home and started gearing up for a tour in Afghanistan, Torres lost his wallet. When he tried to get his ID replaced, his story came apart.
Instead of going to Afghanistan, Torres wound up in Tijuana, Mexico, unable to return to the country for which he had fought. Immigrants have always made up a portion of the Armed Forces in America — joining the U.S. military has always been one of the fastest ways to get U.S. citizenship. About 8,000 troops with green cards became citizens that way last year alone.
But it doesn’t happen automatically. And veterans who did not go through the process of becoming citizens — they can be deported, if they get in trouble later on, just like any other noncitizen. “Many people are unaware that the United States deports military veterans,” says Margaret Stock, a former Army lieutenant colonel and an immigration lawyer.
Stock says immigrants have been enlisting since 1775, and it’s always been a fast track to citizenship. “There’s many legal reasons why you’d want immigrants serving in the United States military to get their citizenship,” she says, since troops will be killing, dying and maybe getting captured under the U.S. flag.
Naturalization used to be part of basic training, but the laws changed, Stock says. As a result, lots of green card holders went to Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming citizens. She says the Obama administration has been aggressive about deporting immigrants who commit crimes, including veterans, though no one knows an exact number. It’s rare enough that even Marine Daniel Torres says he’d never heard of it.
“When I got to Tijuana, I thought my case was unique. It wasn’t until I found this place that I realized it was a bigger issue,” Torres says. (click here for more www.npr.org)