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Utah's Undocumented Immigrants Want a Chance to Serve in Military

Andrea Smardon

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have served in the US Armed Forces, but not everyone who wants to serve can. Some undocumented immigrants in Utah wish they had the opportunity to enlist in the military, and they’re hoping Congress can help. 

Angelica Rodriguez came to Utah just before her sixth birthday from the Mexican state of Veracruz. By the time she was a teenager, her dream was to serve in the US armed forces. She says she wanted to help and protect people, especially during natural disasters.

“Say with Katrina, a lot of people were stuck in homes that were destroyed. Children needed comfort. They lost a parent, so they really needed someone to be there for them, and that’s something that I wanted to do,” Rodriguez says.

She joined the Junior ROTC at West High School in Salt Lake City, and was commanding officer her senior year. She looked into joining the reserves, the navy, and the marines, but they would not take her without a social security number or green card. Immigrants can serve in the US military, but only if they have the proper documentation. Rodriguez thinks undocumented immigrants should have the chance to serve as well.

“A lot of individuals like myself, we don’t know our home country,” Rodriguez says. “So I don’t see why they should be denied the opportunity to serve in a country which they call home.”

Rodriguez is the President of the Salt Lake Dream team, a group of young immigrants who want a path to citizenship through college or military service. She recently received deferred action status which allows her to work legally, but does not make her eligible to enlist in the military. Under the comprehensive immigration bill which will soon be considered by the US Senate, undocumented immigrants would be eligible to join the military as soon as they receive provisional status.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is considered a key GOP vote, but hasn’t committed to supporting the bill. Speaking to reporters at a Memorial Day event, Hatch said immigrants should be able to serve in the US military, as long as they are following the law.

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