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Events highlight immigrant soldiers' service, quest for citizenship

ASU's Irma Arboleda and Steven Borden talk with Tomas Robles
April 17, 2014

A two-day tribute to America’s immigrant veterans who have defended their adopted homeland, and then been denied citizenship and even been deported, is slated for April 30 and May 2 on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

“When you think of veterans, you don’t think of immigration,” said Tomas E. Robles Jr., executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona. “But the military is very diverse. And when you tell people about immigrant families whose members have served in this country’s military, it may not change their stance on immigration, but it brings a human element they may not have heard before.”

According to Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, director of ASU’s School of Transborder Studies, many people still view a United States veteran as someone who is only “mainstream” and who fights for his country.

“They ignore both immigrant Latinos and other immigrant cultures who have fought from Gettysburg to Antietam, and from San Juan Hill to Flanders Fields, and from Iwo Jima to the Battle of the Bulge, and from the Chosin Reservoir to Heartbreak Ridge, and from Khe Sanh to Hue, and from Fallujah to Helmand Province,” he said.

Two events raise awareness of immigrant veterans

The “Veterans and Immigration: Insights and Issues” conference is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon, April 30, in ASU’s Memorial Union Alumni Lounge (MU 202) and includes a light breakfast. On May 2, author Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez will discuss her book, “Latina/os and World War II Mobility, Agency and Ideology,” from noon to 1:30 p.m, in the Memorial Union Mojave Room (MU 236). A light lunch will be provided and a book signing will follow.

Both events are free and open to the public; registration is required. For information and to RSVP to either or both events, visit

ASU Provost Robert E. Page Jr., an Army veteran, will welcome attendees of the veterans and immigration conference. Page introduced the university’s new Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement in February 2014.

The half-day conference will include three panels aimed at raising awareness of the vital role of immigrants to America’s military and national security. The meeting will also examine the plight of immigrant veterans who have had family members deported from the U.S., or have been deported themselves.

High-ranking officers discuss military's diversity

In the first session, several top-ranked military officers will talk about serving the nation in the context of its diversity. Brett Hunt of Bibles, Badges and Business, a national network of faith, law enforcement and business leaders working for immigration reform, is panel moderator.

“We have had millions of people throughout our nation’s history who, despite the fact they were born under a foreign flag, have chosen to serve this country in the military,” Hunt said. “We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude.”

Hunt added that when serving in the military, soldiers depend on the people to the left, right, front and back of them, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. That imbues veterans with a unique perspective on problem-solving and taking care of one another, he said.

“Then you come home and you hear members of Congress say it’s too tough to pass immigration reform, when that wasn’t even an option in military service,” Hunt explained. “You received a mission, you identified an objective and you moved out and executed it.”

Immigrant veterans share personal stories

The next two panels will focus on personal stories of immigrant veterans, illustrating the emotional toll taken when their families are deported, or they are deported themselves. Discussion will include the DREAMers and what this next generation of immigrants means to the future of the U.S. military. These young people are currently protected from deportation under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

“There’s a huge population of veterans affected by our inaction,” Robles said. “While they’re out there fighting for a country that they’ve adopted, we’re trying to ship their families to a country that, in a lot of ways, they’ve never known. I think there’s an injustice to that.”

Taking a broader perspective, Steven Borden, director of ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center and retired Navy officer, noted that this country for centuries has been created by immigrants.

“Immigration is something I think we have lost perspective on as a nation,” Borden said. “Immigration is something we’ve relied on over our 200-plus years of existence in order to build us into the nation we are.

“When you ask people if they are native Americans, you get them to recognize what our nation has been built on over the years. We need to get this immigration reform done right. Our nation is built on doing this right.”

Author focuses on Latino veterans of World War II

On May 2, Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez will hone in on Latino World War II veterans and the controversial aspects of their soldiering and citizenship during the war. The veteran journalist and associate professor of journalism at University of Texas at Austin said the war affected Latina/o personal and political beliefs across a broad spectrum of ethnicities and races.

“Our book addresses some fundamental questions: 'How many Latino veterans did serve in WWII?'” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “It also asks more complex ones: 'What was the Afro-Latino experience like? How did colonialization link servicemen in the Philippines?'”

Her Voces Oral History Project began in 1999 as the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History and expanded to the Korean and Vietnam war periods in 2010, changing its name to Voces. It continues to not only record and document the U.S. Latino experience, but also to analyze and interpret those experiences.

ASU’s Fighting for Country event is co-sponsored by its School of Transborder Studies, Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement and Pat Tillman Veterans Center, together with Bibles, Badges and Business and LUCHA.