Last week, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Army is discharging reservists and recruits who joined the military as part of a promised path to citizenship.
I’ve spent time since then trying to remember if I served in the Army with anyone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen. And the truth is, I have no idea. That’s because I, and everyone else I served with, would never ask a question like that.
When you wear U.S. Army on your uniform, no one ever asks your citizenship because they know everyone there is willing to die for our country, which is more than a lot of citizens are willing to do. I’m not saying everyone has to serve, I’m just saying military service is patriotic whether or not you’re a citizen.
President Trump is now turning his back on men and women who bravely serve our country despite not having the privileges and rights that come with being born here.
This follows a disturbing pattern. President Trump is trying to keep people of certain races and religions out of the country. That much is clear from his “zero-tolerance” family separation policy at the southern border and his staunch advocacy for a travel ban against Muslim-majority countries.
But while President Trump has proudly championed these discriminatory and nakedly nationalist planks of his immigration policy, he’s been much quieter about a similarly un-American betrayal of our military.
Strip away the bureaucratic rationales and it’s clear the Trump Administration is turning its back on hardworking and dedicated men and women who have volunteered to put their lives on the line for our country.
The Commander in Chief is breaking Army code. He is leaving soldiers behind.
A person who voluntarily joins the military, especially when it likely means going to war, has a unique and powerful love for America. Those men and women – the ones who are willing to bear any burden and possibly risk it all – are exactly the kind of people that we should welcome as American citizens.
They’re also people who have been promised citizenship in return for their sacrifice, and America should keep that promise.
President Trump walked away from the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal because he has no respect for the international community with whom we share this planet.
But soldiers fighting in the U.S. Army who happen to be immigrants do the same jobs as soldiers who are already citizens. They’re members of our military, fighting for the protection and advancement of our country, and our interests.
That’s not only misguided, discriminatory and counterproductive – it also ignores an important fact of American history. Non-citizens have fought in our ranks since the Revolutionary War. We literally wouldn’t be the free democracy we are today without the valor and sacrifice of immigrants seeking citizenship through military service. It’s American tradition to recognize the heroism of soldiers who join us from other countries to support what we stand for and fight with us.
The president’s racist rage blinds him from these facts and makes our military weaker and our country less safe.
As an Army veteran who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, I know that diversity in units is a strength. I also know that soldiers with language skills and cultural knowledge of the places where we serve are invaluable.
The Trump administration uses coded language like “political correctness” as an excuse to stymie diversity in the military, which they claim makes us weaker. But I know firsthand that a more diverse military is a stronger one.
This is about capable, honorable people who are willing to serve. It makes no sense to take that right away from them.
And after an immigrant accepts the promise to exchange service to America for American citizenship, returning to their country of origin can be dangerous. In some places, service in the American military can make a person a wanted man or woman.
President Trump is accepting the service of soldiers from abroad, denying them what they were promised and then forcing them into danger. That’s wrong. It’s immoral. And we shouldn’t stand for it.
Men and women from around the world join our ranks to fight under the American flag. They deserve a chance to live under it.
Jason Kander is a former Army captain who served as an Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan. Kander was the first millennial elected to statewide office when he became Missouri’s Secretary of State in 2012. He currently serves as president of the voting rights organization Let America Vote and is running for mayor of Kansas City.