Injured Soldier Naturalized at Walter Reed by USCIS Director
Injured Soldier Naturalized at Walter Reed by USCIS Director
By: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Date: March 8, 2005
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Injured Soldier Naturalized at Walter Reed by USCIS Director." 〈http://uscis.gov/graphics/publicaffairs/newsrels/WalterReedNatz03_08_05.pdf〉 (accessed June 13, 2006).
About the Author: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002. It is responsible for ensuring domestic safety, responding to natural disasters, and regulating the nation's borders.
Armies have traditionally consisted of citizens from a warring country and mercenaries, professional soldiers hired for a specific conflict. The modern U.S. military is composed entirely of volunteers, though not all these volunteers are actually U.S. citizens. As of 2003, the U.S. Defense Department reported that approximately two percent of the U.S. military forces consisted of non-citizens. These 30,000 men and women were permanent residents of the United States who volunteered to serve in the military. Non-citizens are allowed to enlist in all branches of the military. About one-third of these soldiers are from Mexico, while the remainder are from other countries including Canada, India, China, and Vietnam.
Individuals may become U.S. citizens in several ways. A person born in the United States is automatically granted citizenship, regardless of his parents' country of citizenship. Similarly, a child born to U.S. citizens living abroad is automatically granted citizenship. Most American citizens today received citizenship as a result of being born in the United States.
Other men and women receive citizenship through a legal process known as naturalization. U.S. naturalization includes several requirements. Applicants must have been granted permanent resident status in the United States, and they must be at least eighteen years old at the time they apply. Applicants married to a U.S. citizen must be residents of the United States for three years before seeking citizenship, while applicants not married to a U.S. citizen must wait five years. Applicants are also required to demonstrate proficiency in English and are required to pass a test covering the basic principles of U.S. government and history. A record of criminal convictions may disqualify an applicant.
In 2002, in recognition of the sacrifices being made by non-citizens in the military, President Bush signed an executive order accelerating the naturalization process for non-citizen enlistees. Such orders are permitted during times of war, and past orders issued during both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the 1991 Gulf War allowed accelerated eligibility for more than 100,000 non-citizens. Earning citizenship also enabled the soldiers to remain in the armed forces beyond the normal time limits for non-citizens, benefiting both the individual and the service.
Washington D.C.—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Eduardo Aguirre swore in Army Specialist Victor Alfonso Rojas as a Untied States citizen in a private ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. With his father, senior Army officers, and many doctors, nurses, and other medical staff looking on, Rojas raised his right hand to take the Oath of Allegiance to fulfill his long held dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. He arrived at Walter Reed on Nov. 18, 2004, for treatment of the serious injuries he sustained during combat in Iraq.
"I feel really good about becoming a citizen. I was looking for this before going to Iraq." Rojas said after the ceremony, proudly pointing out that he was second member of his family to become a U.S. citizen.
On Nov. 16, 2004, Rojas was driving a vehicle as part of a convoy to collect fuel trucks at Camp Spiker in Iraq. While rendezvousing with a second convoy, he and the convoy suddenly found themselves under rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack. Although he received serious wounds to his right knee when a RPG round hit his vehicle, Rojas continued to drive, using his left leg to get the other soldiers with him in the vehicle out of the line of fire. As he was driving away, his vehicle took a second round, and he suffered additional injuries. Once clear of the attack and everyone was safe, Rojas sought treatment, and was evacuated due to his injuries.
Rojas immigrated to the U.S. from Zacatezas, Mexico, in 1997, settling with his family in Aurora, Ill. After graduating from East Aurora High School, where he participated in the Junior ROTC program, Rojas enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard as a power generator repairman. In June 2003, Rojas was placed on active duty with the 33625 Maintenance Company and deployed to Iraq soon after.
A selfless soldier, after the ceremony Rojas' immediate goal was to recover from his injuries and start running again so that he could rejoin his unit and fellow soldiers.
Though supporters and opponents of the proposed changes both recognize the contribution made by non-citizen soldiers and sailors, they differ on the appropriate response. Advocates of a liberalized citizenship policy argue that any person willing to risk his life fighting to defend the freedom of the United States has demonstrated his loyalty and should be granted citizenship quickly. Opponents of the change do not deny this line of reasoning; however, they worry that making military service an instant ticket to citizenship might prompt non-citizens to enlist solely to gain citizenship, potentially reducing the quality and effectiveness of the military.
Beginning in 2003, soldiers on active duty were legally allowed to complete the official naturalization ceremony outside the United States. As a result of this change, several hundred soldiers each year were able to become U.S. citizens without leaving their combat duty to return to the United States.
Under the terms of a 1990 law, non-citizens who died in combat with the U.S. military were eligible to be granted citizenship posthumously. This law recognized the sacrifice of men and women who had not yet received citizenship, but its provisions lasted only until 1992. In 2002, President Bush signed legislation re-establishing the citizenship opportunity for current members of the military. In addition to honoring the dead, this law allows dependents of deceased soldiers to count that soldier as a citizen for the purposes of their own citizenship applications. As of 2005, some military families began pressing to further expedite the posthumous citizenship process.
Several years into the Iraq war, some Hispanic advocacy groups charge that Hispanics are dying in disproportionately high numbers in combat. These critics accuse the U.S. military of targeting poorly educated Hispanics in order to meet recruiting quotas. In particular, critics claim that recruiters were promising educational benefits while knowing that only one in eight U.S. Hispanics ever qualify to attend college. U.S. Department of Defense data show that Hispanic enlistment reached record levels during the Iraq war.
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