Jesus Gutierrez, 42, wheels himself over to the trunk in his musty motel room – the trunk that contains the surviving treasures of his torn apart life. Before opening the trunk, he has to remove the beer and whiskey bottles that have created a living monument to one of his diseases. Without legs, and with only one arm in full use, Jesus must be careful not to drop the bottles on the tile floor of the motel room lest they shatter, with no one around to help him pick up the pieces.
After ten minutes of carefully removing the bottles, placing each in a black trash bag attached to his wheelchair, Jesus finally opens the trunk. On top, there is the family album, complete with pictures of his parents in the early years of their marriage, when they were still in Mexico, before they immigrated without papers to the United States. Then there is the picture of Jesus taken at his birthday party when he was three. In the photograph, the child’s face is beaming with joy. There is a Mickey Mouse cake in front of him, a blue, green and silver birthday hat on his head, and his mother and father kissing both of his cheeks. A year after that photograph was taken, his mother and father would take Jesus, along with his younger brother, to California in the hope that America would provide greater opportunities for themselves and their children.
It is 2032, about twenty years after Congress enacted landmark immigration legislation known as the Dream Act: a law that codified what it meant for undocumented youngsters to be considered a “productive citizen.” For all the youngsters who were not college bound, “productive citizen” meant serving in the nation’s wars.
Jesus’ parents are deceased, and his younger brother lives in Mexico City working various jobs, but never makes quite enough to help his brother. Twenty years ago, Jesus, not being college bound, but wanting desperately to stay in the United States – the only country he had known since he was four – signed-up for service in the U.S. military.
Jesus was in his early twenties when he signed up for the military, and while he knew that the vast majority of native-born U.S. citizens never enlist in the military, Jesus was desperate not to be deported to a country he did not know. With a voice and accent as American as apple pie, Jesus walked into the closest U.S. Army recruiting station upon passage of the Dream Act, not knowing that only months later the United States would be embroiled in yet another war; a war that, like all the others, most Americans watch on TV and read about on the internet. But not for Jesus.
The U.S. government, with its definition of a “productive citizen” gave Jesus its ultimatum: sign-up for the military, or get deported to the country of his parents.
Two years into his service, Jesus was in a convoy that was hit by a roadside bomb. Diagnosed by military psychiatrists with PTSD, Jesus was put on medications to control his PTSD symptoms. His commanders concluded he was fit for battle. Another year later, while patrolling a village with his platoon, Jesus stepped on a landmine. Instantly both of his legs were severed.
Yet the toll that combat took on Jesus’ body paled in comparison to the toll it took on his mind and spirit. After being discharged, Jesus sank into depression and alcoholism. In 2032, at age 42, he finds himself in a living hell, wondering what he ever did to deserve it.
The above story is obviously fictional, but couple the number of undocumented immigrants desperate to find a way to establish their citizenship with our nation’s war machine, and we have a scenario that could likely play out in the years ahead.
For those of us who believe that every human life is equally precious in the sight of God, we must guard against all measures from Congress or the Executive branch that would exploit those good, law-abiding youngsters who are not academically-inclined, and who will only be deemed “productive citizens” if they serve in the nation’s wars – wars that most of us want nothing to do with. We must find pro-human life alternatives to the Dream Act that would ensure the citizenship of our undocumented brothers and sisters brought to the U.S. as minors. Amnesty is the best choice.