Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Should Be Entitled to a Congressional Medal of Honor!

The Congressional Medal of Honor is America’s highest award for bravery and few receive it, even less that is still alive. Currently, less than 100 Veterans who are recipients of the medal are still living. That’s less than 100 men out of approximately 24 Million Veterans.

I didn’t receive a Congressional Medal of Honor because I never performed any act of bravery that rose to the level of sacrifice that would merit one. But, why should that matter? I served a little over 8 years active duty in the U.S. Army, spent 18 months in Vietnam, was shot at, mortared, subjected to rocket attacks and sapper attacks, just like many others.

But, without performing that act of “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of my life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States,” I am not a recipient.

So, what makes me think I should receive one now?

With apologies to all of those brave men who did receive the medal, it is an analogy to American citizenship, maybe the highest prized accomplishment of legal immigrants to our land and also being sought after now by illegal immigrants, those who have not performed the needed requirements to obtain citizenship, but feel they are entitled due to the length of time they have circumvented our laws to remain in the country illegally or have been employed in a job they feel merits it.

What brings me to this comparison is a recent article appearing in the magazine section of the New York Times, My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant. Written by a Pilipino man, Jose Antonio Vargas, an autobiographical account of his being sent to America at age 12 and his subsequent discovery of being an Illegal Alien at age 16 and various and several measures after that discovery of getting by and advancing as an Illegal Alien.

Unlike some, he didn’t work in the fields; he became an award winning journalist. But to get there, he describes how, using a fake passport, he was able to obtain a Social Security number. Seeing it was stamped “Valid for work only with I.N.S. authorization,” he describes how he and his grandfather, who was a legally naturalized citizen, covered the statement with white tape and made realistic looking copies of the Social Security card.

Next, he describes he “began checking the citizenship box on my federal I-9 employment eligibility forms,” stating “Claiming full citizenship was actually easier than declaring permanent resident green card status, which would have required me to provide an alien registration number.”

Saying he felt guilty, he also says he “needed to live and survive on my own” after being kicked out of his grandfathers home for admitting he was gay, describing coming out on that as “less daunting than coming out about my legal status.”

Fearing he couldn’t qualify for state and federal financial aid for college, due to being illegal, he describes applying for “a new scholarship fund for high-potential students who were usually the first in their families to attend college. Most important, the fund was not concerned with immigration status.” He attended San Francisco State University where tuition, lodging, books and other expenses were funded for him.

He then worked for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Daily News and the Seattle Times as an intern. He lost the internship with the Seattle Times when he had to reveal his illegal alien status.

In 2002 he heard of the proposed DREAM Act that he saw as his ticket to being legal. Consulting an Immigration Lawyer, he was told he would have to “go back to the Philippines and accept a 10-year ban before I could apply to return legally,” that he found unacceptable.

He then says, “For the summer of 2003, I applied for internships across the country. Several newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and The Chicago Tribune, expressed interest. But when The Washington Post offered me a spot, I knew where I would go. And this time, I had no intention of acknowledging my ‘problem’.”

“The Post internship posed a tricky obstacle: It required a driver’s license. (After my close call at the California D.M.V., I’d never gotten one.) So I spent an afternoon at The Mountain View Public Library, studying various states’ requirements. Oregon was among the most welcoming — and it was just a few hours’ drive north.”

He continues, “At the D.M.V. in Portland, I arrived with my photocopied Social Security card, my college I.D., a pay stub from The San Francisco Chronicle and my proof of state residence — the letters to the Portland address that my support network had sent. It worked. My license, issued in 2003, was set to expire eight years later, on my 30th birthday, on Feb. 3, 2011.”

Unfortunately for him, Oregon strengthened their DMV law and he would have to show citizenship. Earlier this year, in February as the Oregon license expired, he simply slipped north across the border and obtained a Washington State drivers license as our legislature refuses to strengthen our law.

Obtaining the Washington Drivers License he says “offered me five more years of acceptable identification — but also five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am,” adding “I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.”

He wrote the article for the New York Times, drawing the sympathy of several in their comments section. He also says he is “working with legal counsel to review my options,” apparently still unwilling to take the needed steps to become a legal citizen.

How is it someone who so flagrantly broke our laws over so many years even has options?

I have no sympathy. An illegal alien is still an illegal alien. Regardless of how good he is at what he does, he knowingly violated immigration laws for many years and took slots that might have benefited legal citizens. He admits to altering a Social Security Card obtained falsely and now, years later, expects legal options?

Therein is my analogy. He has been unwilling to make the needed sacrifices to become legal. Living in the shadows, he sought an easy way where others struggle to become an American citizen.

If under those circumstances he is now entitled to citizenship just for the asking, me and every single person who served honorable in a combat zone should also be entitled to a Congressional Medal of Honor and all of the prestige and benefits associated with it.

Of course, we wouldn’t receive one and I doubt any would accept it without having made the sacrifices. To do so would greatly cheapen the medal and its meaning.

Likewise, handing out citizenship to those who knowingly violate our immigration law cheapens American citizenship, which I believe to be one of the most sought after prizes in the world.


Carrie O'Connor said...

Hi, I just wanted to stop by and thank you for your service. My family was there:

Wishing you peace this Fourth of July.

LewWaters said...

Thank you. Your tribute is very eloquent and an enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing.

This particular post is an analogy, though, not actually geared to Vietnam veterans.

One I wrote a few years ago that is addressing Vietnam Veterans is Veterans, Warriors and Heroes, not Victims