Serving in a U.S. Army intelligence unit in 1990s South Korea, Stephanie Izaguirre learned what it meant to be an outsider. “It is a beautiful culture, but I had to give up everything I knew to experience this whole other part of life,” she says. “That opened my eyes about what it meant to be an immigrant.”
They’re the best of America.
Those years abroad gave Izaguirre a special respect for the fortitude and resilience immigrants demonstrate while assimilating to a new home. She now runs an immigration law firm, where she has been further impressed by the strength and dedication of immigrants who volunteer to serve in the U.S. military, risking their lives to defend American values.
“They’re the best of America,” she says. “Immigrants have left everything they’ve ever known, including their family, to push themselves and their children forward.” Currently only citizens, legal permanent residents, and qualifying legal aliens with skills considered vital to the national interest are eligible to serve.
Immigrants who make the sacrifice have exemplary character and are likely to make important contributions, Izaguirre says. For this reason, she supports the Pentagon’s long-standing policy to support welcoming immigrant recruits by assisting them and their families in gaining citizenship and giving them legal protection from deportation. To qualify for the program, applicants must know the English language, demonstrate good moral character, and meet a number of other requirements. And yet this method of rewarding immigrants for their service has recently come under fire as military officials debate the role of foreigners serving in the U.S. armed forces. “It all comes down to what it means to be an American, Is it the place where your Mom gave birth to you or the place where you assume its identity?”” she says.
As a veteran, Izaguirre would like to see this policy protected. She also believes immigrant soldiers deserve other important benefits, such as allowing their undocumented family members to apply for residency without having to first leave the United States, a policy known as “parole in place.”
“I’ve heard talk about restricting these benefits, but I think they should be expanded,” says Izaguirre. Such benefits are “small from the perspective of the government, but they’re huge for the veteran,” she says. “It’s the government’s way of saying thank you.”
“The people who come to this country are motivated by American ideals of hard work, loyalty, and love of family,” she says. “They would be wonderful assets to this country, and we’re pushing them away because of the fear of outsiders. We already have evidence of their contributions as troops and civilians. We should treat them in kind.”