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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A guide to birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment

Photo by Cliff 1066/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A child participates in a parade of flags, October 2010

The discussion over whether the United States should grant automatic citizenship to everyone who is born here isn't necessarily a new one, but in recent months, it's moved beyond talk.

In the past month, a couple of different legislative approaches have emerged to ending what is now a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment, affirmed by a landmark 1898 Supreme Court case that came out of California. One is a federal House bill that proposes a change to immigration law, introduced in early January by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa; another, less orthodox approach involves a coalition of conservative state legislators who plan to introduce bills at the state level that they hope will land in court, forcing a new Supreme Court review and, they hope, a reinterpretation that would deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants.

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