Brought to US as a Child, Undocumented Immigrant is Refused Her Dream of Serving in US Military

Diana Adame thought she had everything she needed to apply for a college ROTC scholarship. She’d done well in high school, taking advanced International Baccalaureate classes. She had written her essays and gotten all her paperwork together. Then she looked at the final to-do list for the application. “At the top of the list was U.S. Citizen,” Adame says. “And my heart dropped.”

Suddenly, Adame’s dream of a college degree and military career was out of reach. “When I didn’t get that scholarship, I went to my parents and cried and said, ‘Why didn’t you bring me to be born here?’ … That was one of the lowest moments in my life.” Adame applied for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, so she can legally live and work in the United States if she renews her status every two years. But DACA doesn’t make her eligible for the ROTC scholarship she had set her heart on — which means she can’t afford to go to school away from home.

Adame could have given up, but she wasn’t about to let her hard work go to waste. “I made up my own Plan B,” she says. Now she’s attending Colorado State University-Pueblo, paying almost entirely out of pocket. She has a part-time job at Kohl’s, and her father is helping her with tuition as best he can. She’s majoring in nursing and Spanish with a minor in Chicano studies. “I would still like to get into the ROTC program,” she says.

I feel like if you’re willing to give up your life for the country, they should let you go. There’s people who were born in this country who wouldn’t give their life for it.

Adame says that ROTC changed her. Once shy, she now feels comfortable speaking in public. But she says she misses being a part of that culture and community: “Being able to be in uniform, learning, and motivating people to do what they can’t do. Letting them know that there isn’t anything that can stop them from doing what they want to do in life.”

Adame believes all U.S. residents — even those without citizenship — should be able to join the military. Currently only citizens, legal permanent residents, and a few other non-citizen groups are eligible to serve. “I feel like if you’re willing to give up your life for the country, they should let you go,” says Adame, adding that it’s hard enough to recruit young people for programs like the ROTC, so why would the government turn away people like her who are eager to serve. “There’s people who were born in this country who wouldn’t give their life for it.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…