25 March 2008
A YOUNG, ambitious immigrant from Guatemala who dreamed of becoming an architect. A Nigerian medic. A soldier from China who boasted he would one day become an American general. An Indian native whose headstone displays the first Khanda, emblem of the Sikh faith, to appear in Arlington National Cemetery.These were among more than 100 foreign-born members of the US military who earned American citizenship by dying in Iraq.
Jose Gutierrez was one of the first to fall, killed by "friendly fire" in the dust of Umm Qasr in the opening hours of the invasion.
In death, the young marine was showered with honours his family could only have dreamed of in life. His sister was flown in from Guatemala for his memorial service, where a Roman Catholic cardinal presided and top military officials saluted his flag-draped coffin.
And yet, his foster mother agonised as she accompanied his body back for burial in Guatemala City: Why did Jose have to die for America in order to truly belong?
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who oversaw Gutierrez’s service, put it differently.
"There is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies, if it takes death on the battlefield in order to earn citizenship," Mahony wrote to President George Bush in April 2003. He urged Bush to grant immediate citizenship to all immigrants who sign up for military service in wartime.
"They should not have to wait until they are brought home in a casket."