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Remembering Undocumented U.S. Servicemen Lost in Iraq War

Sometimes you stumble across a story in a news feed or just browsing your favorite website that truly makes you stop and think. This is one of those stories that offer a unique perspective during such a controversial time with regards to immigration.

The opening line of the article pulled me in with a fact I did not know: one of the first U.S. servicemen killed in combat in Iraq was not a citizen of the country for which he sacrificed his life. His name was Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez and he served as a rifleman with the Marines. Less than a year after joining, he died in a firefight near Umm Qasr on March 21, 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Jose Gutierrez was born in Guatemala and was orphaned at a young age when his parents were killed in a civil war. Jose grew up in the streets before he eventually was taken in by a home for orphan boys. At the young age of 20, Jose made the 2,000-mile journey to California on foot. When he arrived he told immigration officials that he was 16. It was a lie, likely told so that he could be released from ICE custody as a minor child. However, what followed showed his true dedication to the United States. Being that he was now considered a minor with no family in the U.S., Gutierrez became a ward of the state of California. He was placed in group homes or foster families where he learned English and finished high school. He attended community college. He eventually received legal permanent residency and put off dreams of finishing college to obtain a bigger dream through his service: American citizenship. Gutierrez's foster-sister was quoted saying that he "wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came from nothing. This country gave him everything."

In the end, he was able to achieve what he wanted most. Federal authorities, in honor of his military service and death in combat, made him eligible for posthumous citizenship. However, it still required his next of kin to take his death certificate and $80 to an immigration office. At her request of his older sister, who is his only surviving relative, he was laid to rest in Guatemala. We will never know whether he was granted citizenship as immigration files are protected by privacy laws.

This kind of story is not what typically comes to mind when we think of immigration... maybe it should be.

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