How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'Army unit' scheme a reminder of the military's pull for non-citizens

A military naturalization ceremony, July 2010. Photo by NOWCastSA/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In case any sort of reminder was needed of how desperate many immigrants are for U.S. citizenship, one came yesterday in the sentencing of Yupeng "David" Deng, a Chinese immigrant from El Monte accused of charging fellow immigrants upwards of $400 to join a bogus “special forces” military unit that he told them would provide a path to citizenship.

Deng, who led the fake unit as its "supreme commander," was sentenced to three years in state prison in connection with the scheme after pleading guilty to various charges. He has been ordered to pay restitution to his victims, Chinese immigrants who believed his citizenship promise.

It wasn't the only reminder of the draw of the military as a path to citizenship this week.

On Tuesday, during a packed Senate hearing on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act), retired Lt. Colonel Margaret Stock of the Military Police Corps and U.S. Army Reserve testified on how the proposed legislation is a valuable recruiting tool. The Dream Act would grant conditional legal status not only to undocumented college students brought to the U.S. before age 16, but to young people who enlist.

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Bogus 'army unit' a reminder of how far immigrants are willing go for citizenship

Photo by U.S. Army Korea-IMCOM/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A military naturalization ceremony held at a U.S. Army base in South Korea, December 2008

The story of David Deng, a Chinese immigrant from El Monte accused of charging fellow Chinese immigrants upwards of $400 to join a bogus "special forces" military unit that could lead them to U.S. citizenship - replete with bogus uniforms - might come off on one hand as this week's immigration news of the weird.

On the other hand, it's a relevant reminder of how far many immigrants to the United States are willing to go in order to become citizens.

The ranks of non-citizen soldiers in the U.S. military, often referred to as “green card soldiers,” have swelled in recent years. In order to attract more military conscripts, the federal government made a series of policy changes in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks that would make joining the military more attractive to legal-resident immigrants. This included a 2002 presidential order allowing non-citizens serving in the military to apply for expedited citizenship.

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