Truman National Security Project

A marine’s plea for immigration reform: Guest commentary

DREAM act

Last week, amid Congress’ debate over Syria, a slew of news stories called attention to the fact that achieving comprehensive immigration reform is growing more unlikely. With legislators focusing on if, how, when and what the U.S. military should strike abroad, their attention to our most pressing domestic issue is waning. But rather than an either-or approach, Congress should recognize the opportunity to strengthen our national security at home by acting on forward-thinking immigration policies before the end of the year.

As a Marine Corps veteran who proudly served my country in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I am calling on the House of Representatives to act and pass comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

Serving in two wars took courage, and I’m proud to see that leaders of both parties in Washington acknowledge that reforms to our broken immigration system are necessary to secure our borders.

As a veteran, I believe in a strong and safe America. It’s why I fought in two wars. And it’s why immigration reform should focus security of all of our borders, as well as airports and seaports, which have been ignored by the immigration debate. Above all, there should be reforms implemented across the country: safety should just not focus on the southwest, but on all points of entry to the U.S.

But far beyond border security, reforms that include a path to citizenship are vital to our economic strength and national safety.

Growing up as a child with an undocumented mother, I lived in fear that, one day, my mother would be deported and my life would shatter. I remember that every time my mother would see a police car go by, she would hide, and I would panic. I spent my childhood that way — praying every day that I would not be separated from my mother.

But my personal experiences are not unique. Millions of hard-working undocumented immigrants are deemed a threat, wasting critical time and law enforcement resources. Common-sense immigration reform should focus on law enforcement efforts only for those who pose a threat to public safety or national security.

Just as importantly, limiting undocumented immigrants to work in the underground economy denies our country the opportunity gain the full advantage of their talents, contributions, and drive for success — whether they are engineers with skills in new technology, laborers who can build our infrastructure, or aspiring leaders with a drive to serve our country in the armed forces.

Our immigration system must enable American families to stay strong and secure. By offering a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that are in our country right now, we are giving them a path to come out of the shadows, and become more active in American life — including military service.

Once I became of age, I wanted to give back to this great nation. Keeping our nation safe in the Marine Corps was the only thing I wanted to do. Let’s give others the chance to do the same.

It is time for Congress to act and pass a common-sense immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who moved to this great country for a better life for themselves and their families. Take it from a Marine — and the son of an immigrant who lived in fear: is time that we secure our nation’s entry points and ensure a safe America.

Ricardo Reyes is a Truman Project Defense Council Member. This article originally appeared on Pasadena Star-News