For military and America, Senate immigration bill must pass

 ·  Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Richardo S. Sanchez, The Hill

It was Thanksgiving Day, 2003, in Iraq. I was the Commander of Ground Forces. While visiting a dining facility, I saw a small group of Hispanic soldiers enjoying Thanksgiving dinner and went over to speak with them. We talked for a bit, and then I asked them, on this Thanksgiving Day, what is it that they wished for. The war was still young, but it never takes long for troops to start to feel war-weary, especially in this, the most grueling post-invasion period that the U.S. military ever faced. I expected a response linked to our ongoing challenges. What I got back was astounding to me. 
They asked that the path to citizenship be expedited for all in America who didn’t have it. It is a known fact that non-citizen legal residents have been serving and sacrificing in our military for many generations. Perhaps it was my own Mexican lineage and growing up in a Texas border town that had made me well aware of this fact. But, coupled with the sad truth that one of the first men I lost in Iraq was a legal resident with no citizenship, who was buried in Mexico and not in Arlington National Cemetery, these totally dedicated warriors gave me something to embrace and think about. 
People come to this nation not just seeking a better life but they are willing to give back just like most Americans. Here were men willing to fight and sacrifice their lives defending our Constitution and our flag, even though we had not bestowed citizenship upon them. In our communities, so many are giving back and adding to the richness of America, through public service jobs, volunteer work, and involvement in our houses of worship and community centers.

As Congress considers the issue of immigration reform, I wonder about the numbers of men and women who desperately want to add to the fabric of America, and cannot, because of their undocumented status. For them, they must remain hidden and quiet. 
I think about the military that I love and its constant need for fine young people to join the ranks in defense of our country.  America’s military is being denied the service of these potentially exemplary service members because they must remain in the shadows. For an institution that protects us all by recruiting the hardest working, most talented and able among us, we all suffer as a result. 
The proposed legislation now moving forward in the Senate will strengthen our security at home and abroad, while also providing opportunities for immigrants to give back to this great nation they already call home. This is absolutely the right approach.
My war experiences give me a perspective on this issue that very few others have. While in command of U.S. operations in Kosovo and Iraq, I learned the importance of controlling the borders- it was literally a life and death issue. On the importance of securing the border, many in Congress are right in saying that immigration reform is nothing unless we bolster our border protection. 
It is my experience that immigration solutions must be comprehensive in order to achieve success. In isolation, walls do not solve immigration problems. Large numbers of border patrol units and high technology solutions contribute but must be part of a greater strategy. A viable solution must be comprehensive and balanced. Most importantly, it must be integrated with a fair proposal on this side of the border which provides a reasonable path to citizenship to those already living in America. The path should not be easy or without qualifications but it must be attainable for those who seek it. The Senate bill achieves all of the above.   
If this was just a simple matter of handing out a freebie to undocumented immigrants, there is no doubt I would feel quite different about this debate. But it isn’t. This approach is about fairness, about securing America and about making us stronger as a nation. I took an oath when I joined the military to protect and defend this country and I still hold that oath very dear. 
It has been 10 years since I spoke to those soldiers on Thanksgiving Day. Their wish has gone unfulfilled because of politics. For them there can be no more delays. For our military there cannot be another opportunity on another day. For America we cannot let a fair, balanced and just immigration reform bill go unpassed.

Sanchez was Commander of Ground Forces in Iraq from 2003-2004.  He serves as an advisor to the veterans group,

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