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AP Explains: Immigrants in US military throughout history

July 15, 2018
JOSE GUTIERREZ FUNERAL
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FILE - In this April 9, 2003, file photo, relatives of Guatemalan born Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Antonio Gutierrez, one of the first combat casualties of the Iraq War, gather around his coffin at his funeral at Los Cipreses cemetery in Guatemala City. The Guatemalan-born Gutierrez, who entered to U.S. illegally as an orphan teen, was killed in battle around the port city of Umm Qasr. Hundreds attended his memorial service outside of Los Angeles. He was granted American citizenship posthumously. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged .

A few said the Army informed them they had been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Throughout history, immigrants have served and earned praise for their actions in battle despite reservations about their immigration status and loyalties. Here are some examples:

AMERICAN REVOLUTION

French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette sailed to the newly formed United States in 1777 to join the fight against the British. The colonists’ struggle inspired him, and he eventually became a major-general in Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army. News of Lafayette’s actions against the British spread across the colonies and he would forever been seen as an early American hero.

In addition to Lafayette, Prussian military officer Friedrich von Steuben volunteered for the Continental Army, as did a West Indies-born immigrant named Alexander Hamilton. The young Hamilton caught the eye of Washington and became a trusted adviser, helping defeat the British in the Battle of Yorktown.

MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR

Newly arrived immigrants represented a large portion of recruits to the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. They joined the military out of economic circumstances and came from places like Germany and Ireland.

Many Irish Catholics faced discrimination in an army with a leadership that consisted of Protestants and nativists. A few deserted the U.S. Army in Mexico and formed the St. Patrick’s Battalion because they related more to the Mexican Catholics they initially were fighting.

CIVIL WAR

During the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, non-citizens made up as much as 20 percent of the 1.5 million soldiers in the Union Army, Emilio T. Gonzalez, then-U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, told a U.S. Senate committee in 2006. Most of them, including Union Maj. Gen. Franz Siegel, were born in Germany or Ireland.

Gonzalez testified that 369 immigrants were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism in the Union cause, including Capt. William Joyce Sewell of Ireland. Sewell would later become a U.S. senator from New Jersey.

In the New Mexico territory, Hispanic Union soldiers born in land that was once part of Mexico helped defeat an advancing Confederate surge at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The “Gettysburg of the West” forced the Confederates to retreat out of the American West and back to Texas.

WORLD WAR II

Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants sought to enlist in the U.S. Army at the outbreak of World War II to show their loyalty and to demand civil rights upon their return.

Among the immigrants to join were Dr. Hector P. Garcia of Corpus Christi, Texas, and cotton farmer Macario Garcia of Sugar Land, Texas. Both would become key figures in the Mexican-American civil rights movement.

Macario Garcia gained national attention in 1944 after he destroyed two Nazi enemy emplacements and captured four prisoners. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman and was treated to a hero’s welcome in Houston.

The day after a party in his honor, a diner outside Houston denied Garcia service because he was Hispanic. Garcia fought with diner staff and destroyed part of the restaurant in anger. After a national outcry, charges against Garcia were dropped.

The fight was later portrayed in the 1956 movie “Giant,” starring Rock Hudson and James Dean.

WAR ON TERROR

At the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, around 38,000 of those in uniform were not American citizens. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would naturalize more than 26,000 service members from Sept. 11, 2001, to 2006, following an executive order by President George W. Bush.

One of the first combat casualties of the Iraq War was Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22. The Guatemalan-born Gutierrez, who entered the U.S. illegally as an orphan teen, was killed in battle around the port city of Umm Qasr. Hundreds attended his memorial service outside of Los Angeles. He was granted American citizenship posthumously.

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Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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See AP’s complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration

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