Editor’s note: Reporter Matt Sanchez, currently embedding with military units throughout both Iraq and Afghanistan, has been providing WND readers with a glimpse into the Iraq war most Americans have never seen.
At Airbase Anaconda in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Gregory Couch pondered the irony, “We’re swearing in new American citizens in one of Saddam Hussein’s theaters, a place that was accustomed to a different type of spectacle.”
For Veteran’s Day 2007, 178 U.S. military men and women serving in Iraq became citizens of the country for which they are fighting, the United States. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff made the trip to Iraq’s largest airbase to preside over the legalization ceremony of servicemen and women who traced their birthplaces to more than 53 nations scattered around the globe.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff happy to deal with applicants who have ‘earned their citizenship’
In 2004, President Bush signed into law an executive order to accelerate “naturalization during a period of hostility” for those who are serving in the American military. So far, more than 4,000 have become citizens under the new law, but up to 40,000 are eligible.
Marine Cpl. Tintu Parameswar, born in India, took
advantage of the immigration fast-track while deployed to Iraq. The
corporal has lived in the United States since the age of three, is currently on his second tour in Fallujah and serves with the 2nd Tank Battalion.
“There are more job opportunities,” the corporal said about his decision to become a citizen. He’d like to make a career out of the military and intends to re-enlist during this tour.
Every single Iraqi and Afghan interpreter I’ve met has expressed interest in emigrating to the United States, but like anyone who has attempted to deal with the naturalization process knows,
there are obstacles. The American embassy in Iraq is not a “visa
issuing post.” Iraqi interpreters who work with the American military are forced to go to an embassy outside of Iraq, which will require yet another visa.
Secretary Chertoff said immigration for Iraqi interpreters is an issue he intends to discuss with Ambassador Crocker upon returning to Baghdad. A government official said there were approximately 500 spots for immigrants with this special status.
The troops assembled in the Anaconda movie theater left their units to come from all over Iraq and raise their right hand to discard any “allegiance to foreign powers.” I spoke to troops who had tried to do this on their own, back home and had stopped the process because it was too time consuming. There were others who had missed an important immigration interview because of duties and deployment. Still others, daunted by the task, had intended to get to it – eventually.
“This is a one-stop shop for immigration”, said Emilio Gonzalez, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services and a former soldier himself. His employees were happy to travel to Iraq, from Italy, and process these applications.
Happy Marine with both a new nationality and a new Marine uniform
One applicant, Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Brownie with 82nd Airborne, 2nd Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N. C., was born in Alberta, Canada.
After middle school, high school and now the Army, Daniel has lived in the United States for most of his life.
But how did this Canadian national feel about being in Iraq and serving a country where he did not have the right to vote?
“I support our mission, I signed up for this,” said Brownie. “I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself.”
It’s a little publicized fact many Canadians crossed the border to enlist in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
Of course, joining the American military meant the possibility of serving in a combat zone. Why not stay in Canada and join that service?
Stacks of American flags for troops who have sworn to defend it with their lives, before they were given the right to vote
“I couldn’t stand up tall and tell people ‘I’m in the Canadian Army,'” he said. “I didn’t even know they had an army.”
Canadian military action is poorly viewed by a French and English-speaking public that gets nosebleeds just reading about the American military. So, how did Brownie come to have a different opinion about the American military machine?
“I love to be able to say I’m a part of the strongest military in the world.”
The staff sergeant actually re-enlisted on the 4th of July this year.
When asked his opinion on the current illegal immigration debate, he was straight-forward. “I work in the Army and I have to go through the system, everyone else should go through the system too.”
The general opinion of the men and women who finally arrived at their destination after a long journey is that citizenship is something to be earned.
During the initial press conference before the naturalization ceremony, a reporter from Newsweek asked, “Has there been any evidence of people joining the military just to get citizenship?”
Chertoff and most of the members of the military in the room openly laughed.
“There are far easier ways of doing it,” Brig. Gen. Couch said.
He’s right. Those who serve and risk their lives for a country not entirely their own have taken a harder test to naturalization than anyone else. Many servicemen killed in action have been posthumously granted citizenship.
“It’s a privilege to become an American,” said Brownie.
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Matt Sanchez, originally from California, is a New York City-based writer currently embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and the Weekly Standard.
A corporal in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a student at Columbia University where he’s working on degree in American Studies, Sanchez says his mission in Iraq is “to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground.” His blog, Matt-Sanchez.com, chronicles his work.