Guest Editorial: To serve with honor, and be thrown to the dogs
President Donald Trump and his supporters might feel righteously indignant about illegal border crossers, but the administration's backlash against others who are trying to immigrate the right way is charting a perilous new course in unfairness and cruelty. The Pentagon is dismissing noncitizen service members who joined to demonstrate patriotism and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of their adopted country.
The Associated Press has been able to document the abrupt discharge of more than 40 immigrant Army reservists and recruits. The actual number is believed to be much higher. These discharges come amid increasingly harsh anti-immigrant measures by the Trump administration, bolstered by the president's unrelenting attacks on those who crossed the border illegally.
But the people who volunteered for military service fit into an entirely different category. They are noncitizens who openly acknowledge their status as visitors but who hope to gain a pathway to citizenship. The federal government has long offered special incentives to lawful immigrants: In exchange for serving, they had been promised a faster track to bypass the long and arduous naturalization process that others must endure.
The benefits for the country are enormous. The military has found a new way to boost recruitment, especially in times when regular citizens are reluctant to join. Noncitizen recruits offer valuable talents that the military often has difficulty finding, such as fluency in difficult languages like Mandarin, Farsi and Arabic.
But last October, less than a year after Trump took office, the Pentagon announced it was tightening its vetting and certification procedures in ways that meant some who had already served honorably still might not get what the military promised. Without Pentagon protection, they must go home when their visas expire.
An Iranian citizen who had gone through the program, called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, expressed pride at "pursuing everything legally and living an honorable life." But he told The Associated Press: "It's terrible because I put my life in the line for this country, but I feel like I'm being treated like trash. If I am not eligible to become a U.S. citizen, I am really scared to return to my country."
Fears are high for lots of recruits, who face accusations of treason at home for having served the military interests of the United States. One such Army recruit was Shu Luo, a highly educated Chinese citizen who had enlisted to serve the United States.
Deportation could mean death back home, he told National Public Radio.
Is this really how America wants to show gratitude to those who served honorably? The repercussions could be severe in the future, should the United States find itself at war with one of those countries and badly need those recruits' language skills. Who would want to serve a country that so willingly throws its loyal servants to the dogs?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 7