July 25, 2007
Latino teenagers, including illegal immigrants are being recruited into the military with false promises.
By Deborah Davis
In 1996, Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar was a 13-year-old boy, up from Tijuana on a family shopping trip, when he stopped at a Marine Corps recruiting table at an open-air mall in Chula Vista, Calif.
Jesus had been an easy mark for the recruiter—a boy who fantasized that by joining the powerful, heroic U.S. Marines, he could help his own country fight drug lords. He gave the recruiter his address and phone number in Mexico, and the recruiter called him twice a week for the next two years, until he had talked Jesus into convincing his parents to move to California. Fernando and Rose Suarez sold their home and their laundry business and immigrated with their children to Escondido, where Jesus enrolled at a high school known for academic achievement. But the recruiter wanted him to transfer to a school for problem teenagers, since its requirements for graduation were lower and Jesus would be able to finish sooner. He was 17 and a half when he graduated from that school, still too young to enlist on his own, so his father co-signed the enlistment form, as the military requires for underage recruits.
Three years later, at the age of 20, his body was torn apart in Iraq by an American-made fragmentation grenade during the first week of the invasion. In the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty database, his death is number 74.
Now Jesus is in a cemetery in Escondido, and his parents, who blame each other for his death, are painfully and bitterly divorced. While his mother bears her loss as a private tragedy, Fernando, who has dual Mexican and American citizenship, is working tirelessly to protect other young immigrants from being manipulated by U.S. military recruiters—the way he wishes he had protected his son.
In the Iraq war, citizenship is being used as a recruiting tool aimed specifically at young immigrants, who are told that by enlisting, they will be able to quickly get citizenship for themselves (sometimes true, depending on what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Department of Homeland Security finds) and their entire families (not true; each family member has to go through a separate application process). Nevertheless, with the political pressures on Latino families growing daily under this administration, many young Latinos are unable to resist the offer, which immigrants’ rights activists see as blatant exploitation of a vulnerable population.
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