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Kennedy on Contributions of Immigrants to the Military

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Kennedy on Contributions of Immigrants to the Military

Statement before the Committee on Armed Services Miami Field Hearing

"Mr. Chairman, I commend you for holding this important hearing on the contributions of immigrants in the United States Armed Forces to the defense of our nation.

I also want to commend Senator Warner, McCain, Senator Graham and Senator Martinez for their leadership in moving us forward toward realistic immigration reform.

If anyone doubts the many benefits that immigrants bring to our country, they need to look no farther than their valiant service in the United States military.

These immigrants could easily have taken civilian jobs to care for their families. But today, More than 60,000 naturalized citizens and permanent residents now wear the uniform of the United States of America. They take the same oath of enlistment as any American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

I can think of no greater commitment to their adopted land.

They take this solemn promise to heart. In all of our wars, immigrants have fought side by side with Americans - and with great valor. They make up five percent of our military today, but over our history have earned 20 percent of the Congressional Medals of Honor. And at least 101 have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since the President and Congress made changes to expedite citizenship applications filed by immigrant men and women in our armed services, more than 13,000 service members have naturalized. I have had the honor and privilege of participating in military naturalization ceremonies for some of these "green card troops."

Naturalization has a special place in our society. It is the uniquely powerful moment when new citizens embrace our nation, and our nation embraces them. Naturalized citizens are Americans by choice, and that choice is a great tribute to our country and its ideals.

Given the deep commitment of these immigrants to our land, it is an affront to their noble military service to declare the 12 million undocumented immigrant men, women and children to be criminals, as some in Congress have done. And it is an insult to their dedication to our defense when the far right in Congress makes the wrong headed bumper sticker claim that the solution to our immigration problems is just to build more fences and add more border patrols.

We have tried that before and it doesn't work. And this simplistic proposal led by the far right in Congress is a formula for failure. It would leave us weaker and less secure.

Americans know that our immigration system is broken. But they also understand that immigration is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive solution.

Clearly, we must take serious steps to secure our borders and enhance enforcement. But common sense suggests that we are not going to round up 12 million undocumented immigrants and deport them. Instead, we owe it to our nation to take into account what these hard working immigrant families have to offer to America's strength, security, and values in the years ahead. We must provide a path for them to learn English, pay their taxes, show a steady work history, and earn the privilege of American citizenship. And we must establish a means for future immigrants to come here legally to meet the legitimate needs of our employers for more workers.

We must also enact the DREAM Act, which is included in the Senate bill. This bipartisan compromise will enable immigrant students to pursue higher education like citizens, or join the military, as many are eager to do. The DREAM Act is the right title, since the Act will give thousands of bright, hard-working immigrant students a chance to peruse their "American Dream." By denying them these opportunities, we deny our country their intelligence, their creativity, their energy, and often their loyalty.

President Bush and a bipartisan majority in the United States Senate support this comprehensive immigration reform. And religious leaders, business leaders and community leaders are calling on Congress to pass this it this year.

These leaders support comprehensive reform because they are eyewitnesses to the patriotic spirit of our courageous immigrants in uniform as well as the many, many other immigrants who are part of our extraordinary history and heritage. Immigrants are an indispensable element of what makes America the Promised Land. They have contributed immensely to our communities. They have created new jobs, and even whole new industries, and have helped make America the land of freedom, hope and opportunity that it is today.

Once again, we honor those immigrants who serve in our military, especially in these dangerous and difficult times. I commend this Committee for convening this hearing on such an important subject, and I thank the distinguished witnesses for their testimony today."

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