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Op-Ed - Forces Need New Day

Op-Ed

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Written by Senator John Kerry

Ever since there has been a United States - and before, at Lexington and Concord - we have depended upon brave men and women who have fought and sometimes given their lives to defend our ideals.

They've come from all corners of our land, and represented all races and religions. Many were immigrants who adopted America as their home and were willing to die to defend it.

The military doesn't just adapt to changing times, it is often the model for the rest of our country. It has been called the great equalizer. Certainly, President Harry Truman's desegregation of the military set the stage for the social progress that made it possible for Colin Powell to become the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

We now have another opportunity to make our military stronger and our society more just.

Gay and lesbian Americans who want to serve their country are forced to lie about who they are. Patriotic youth who want to enlist, but who were brought here illegally as children have no way to serve, and no pathway to citizenship.

This week we could have changed that so our armed forces finally reflect the diversity of America. While yesterday's vote didn't go our way, it's still vital that we pass the DREAM Act and repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Laurie Harris, a 34-year-old doctor from Newburyport, attended Boston University Medical School through a program that paid her tuition in exchange for service in the Air Force. But before she completed her medical training, Harris was dismissed from the Air Force and sent a bill for her tuition. Her crime? She had told her commanding officer she was a lesbian.

In the 17 years since Don't Ask, Don't Tell became policy, 13,000 men and women have been dismissed from the military. We shouldn't turn away anyone who wants to serve, though we do every day.

Filipe wanted to serve in the Navy for as long as he could remember. His grandfather was in the Brazilian Navy and Filipe was inspired by his service. Filipe was brought to the United States by his mother when he was 12. Today he wants to attend the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, study engineering, and serve in the U.S. Navy. He felt "broken in half" when he found out he wasn't allowed to serve his country. We owe Filipe better and we owe our military better.

The DREAM Act would do just what its name implies - let young people like Filipe achieve the American dream. Any child who was brought to this country illegally but has attended school, stayed out of trouble, and completes two years of college or military service will be able to earn citizenship. These children did not intentionally break the law. They are innocent victims of a broken immigration system. If they are willing to put their lives on the line to defend our country, the least we can do is honor their courage and allow them to become citizens of the country they swear to defend.

Immigrant soldiers and gay service members have served our country with distinction since its birth. It's time that we honor their sacrifices and their commitment to service by passing the DREAM Act and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Remember now the words of President Truman when, in the face of enormous outcry and opposition, he desegregated the military: "There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin." Let's complete Truman's mission, and wipe away the last stain of discrimination on our Armed Services.


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