Minnesota immigrants and veterans, from age 15 to 99, joined U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in St. Paul on Sunday to support passage of immigration reform that would allow some children of undocumented workers to serve in the military and pursue citizenship.
On the eve of Veterans Day, Klobuchar pushed for passage of an immigration bill, including the so-called DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. The act which would allow DREAMers — young people who were brought to the United States as children – to serve in the military. Undocumented immigrants currently can’t enlist.
Klobuchar spoke at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Community Center, where she was flanked by about 20 veterans from the American Veterans Association Post No. 5, located on St. Paul’s West Side, which is home to a large Hispanic community. Also present were several immigrant teenagers who hope to enlist in the armed services.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this year. The House of Representatives has not passed the legislation, a version of which was introduced in both chambers in May 2011. Opponents of the bill have balked at provisions that would grant a path to citizenship to immigrants who came to the United States illegally.
Klobuchar said Joseph Medina, 99, of St. Paul, moved with his adoptive Mexican parents to Sleepy Eye, Minn., at age 5 to work in the soybean fields.
They later moved to St. Paul, where Medina attended school and worked at a meat packing plant until 1944, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. While in training, authorities discovered Medina and others in his unit were undocumented immigrants.
The rules then let them become citizens by going to Canada and using their military IDs to return. They became citizens and rejoined their unit.
Medina served in the Army Corps of Engineers under Gen. Douglas McArthur in World War II. His son Michael, also present Sunday, is a Vietnam veteran and an architect.
“You can’t imagine how proud I am to be an American,” Joseph Medina said.
Veronica Zhinin, 17, of Minneapolis, said she was 5 when her parents brought her from Ecuador to the United States. She plans to graduate next spring from South High School. “My dream is to serve in the U.S. Navy,” she said. “I want to be a hero.”
She urged passage of the DREAM Act to “allow young Americans like me to give back to this wonderful country.”
Klobuchar said the immigration reform bill “would bring 11 million people out of the shadows so they can get an education and serve.” She said after the news conference that the continuing budget debate talks in the wake of the government shutdown last month could encourage passage of the bill that she said the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated would save $158 million in the next 10 years.