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January 5th, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Rareview: Going from U.S. soldier to U.S. citizen

By Sari Zeidler, CNN

(CNN) - Dalia Nesmith says she always felt like an American, even as she grew up in a family of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Living between Mexico and the United States, Nesmith held on to her Mexican heritage, but also to her dream of defending the United States, a country where the worries of deportation and a family torn apart were real.

By the time Nesmith joined in the U.S. Air Force, she was a permanent resident - a requirement for her to enlist. For her, the military was a call to action, she said, not the promise of an expedited path to citizenship.

According to Matthew B. Tully, an immigration lawyer and lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were the catalyst for changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act that have made it easier and cheaper for military members to gain citizenship.

The process could become easier if the DREAM Act passes.  It would allow for some immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally to serve in the military and gain citizenship. The prospect recently took center stage nationally when Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said he would veto the act given the chance - a position he defended on CNN’s "Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien."

Tully said immigrants who serve in the military deserve citizenship.  “I’m in favor of fast-tracking for people who put their lives on the line for this country,” he said.

For Nesmith, joining the military was a career choice - citizenship was the reward she never knew how much she wanted.

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Filed under: Ethnicity • How we live • Immigration • Latino in America • Rareviews
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Earleen Dumont

    Dacă aţi găsi ceea ce o persoană se poate efectua de bine , cred că -i permită acestuia să-l face . Oferiţi -l cu o sansa .
    Ferme familiale şi proprietarii de afaceri mici vor ficoloana vertebrală a comunităţilor noastre .

    March 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JOSE0311USMC

    IMMIGRANTS–OR–ILLEGALS ??? ME ? WE DO NOT NEED ANYMORE IMMIGRANTS AND WE DO NOT NEED MORE ILLEGALS.. IF YOU ARE HERE ILLEGALLY ? YOU SHOULD BE DEPORTED TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM WITHOUT GOING TO OUR COURT.. A WASTE OF TAX PAYERS MONEY...BY THE WAY , WE DO NOT HAVE THE JOBS ANYMORE TO CONTINUE ALLOWING MORE IMMIGRANTS IN. TIME TO END ALL LEGAL IMMIGRATION FOR AMERICAS BEST INTEREST...I'M A HISPANIC GUY, SO DON'T CALL ME A BIGOT–OR–RACISTS..

    January 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Guy

      I won't call you a bigot or a racist....just an idiot. Learn about American History. This country was created and rose up to greatness on the backs and the sweat and blood of immigrants (like myself). And while I can completely agree about illegal immigration, which is a crime, closing the borders completely is a stupid idea.

      January 9, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. JOSE0311USMC

    THE MILITARY IS WASTING $$ BILLIONS OF TAX PAYERS DOLLARS JUST BY ALLOWING WOMEN IN...WOMEN CAN'T FIGHT IN COME BAT.. POLITICS IS THE ONLY REASON, IS COSTING $$ BILLIONS.

    January 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kellen

      Just because we cannot fight in combat does not mean we are not worthless in the military.

      January 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
      • will

        I think you mean "worthwhile."

        January 26, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  4. DT

    All immigrants should have to go through the same screening,waiting period and pay the same fees. Those that have gone through the system, passed and are legally here had to. I might be in favor of letting those that ID themselves, then join the military in some capacity, fast track their application to some degree, but this still discriminates against those that applied and are here legally.

    January 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RetiredMilitaryMember

    The military is drawing down in size. In the past two years, every branch of service has met or exceeded their recruiting goals. No longer does the Army need grant moral waivers or depend upon the limited service of foreign nationals who can barely get a Secret security clearance. Jobs are limited to food service, transportation, and vehicle mechanics. Jerry Brown, Governor of California recently passed the Dream Act allowing illegals access to student loans and in-state tuition. Meanwhile, a U.S. citizen of Caucasian or Asian descent is overrepresented in the UC school system. And therefore will not gain entry without high SAT scores, a near 4.0 GPA average and class ranking. How is this fair? Our natural born citizens are forced to attend community colleges while those who are economically disadvantaged or racially underrepresented get into top state universities.

    As a retired military member, I can attest to the hardworking ethics of immigrants. They are grateful for being given an opportunity to wear the uniform and learn valuable skills. My biggest concern is their background checks and prior criminal histories if they come from foreign countries. Enlistees under 21 years of age pose little security threat if they were raised and educated in the United States. But older enlistees from China, Russia, Korea, etc. are hard to trace. Very few are given top secret security clearances if they have lived extensively in other countries. If illegals take the jobs and college seats ahead of U.S. citizens, it creates animosity and resentment. Yet our state department allows this to happen all in the hopes of producing second and third generations of skilled laborers and working professionals.

    January 6, 2012 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. AMERICA 1st

    If theyre illegal intruders, stuff em in a box and send em back to where they belong!

    January 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      DEPORT THEM, I AGREE. OBAMA LOVES ILLEGALS–OR–IS JUST USING THEM TO GET MOST HISPANICS VOTES...HE WON'T GET MY HISPANIC VOTE.. AM FOR AMERICA FIRST.. OBAMA IS FOR VOTES FIRST, AMERICA SECOND.

      January 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |