A path to citizenship? ‘All hell will break loose’

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Oh, they’re screaming now!

The Tea Party, the GOP, the ones who shout, “I don’t want people here who don’t look like me.”

It’s ugly.

And it’s sad.

It’s kind of odd, too. Because it’s gotten so bad that now they’re shouting at each other. And at themselves.

This past week, Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from California, proposed granting U.S. citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. All those now-grown kids had to do was join the U.S. military.

What happened?

A fellow Republican, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, went ballistic. Or, at least, threatened to.

He immediately sent out a letter urging his colleagues to oppose Denham’s effort, and any like it.

As the AP quoted him as saying:

“If another member tries to give illegal aliens preferential treatment and put them on equal footing with American citizens for jobs in the military, I will fight it and all hell will break loose.”

What exactly was Denham proposing that was so outrageous?

Kids, who were powerless and probably clueless when their parents decided to bring them across the border, who grew up here, who most likely only speak English, should be granted citizenship for risking their lives for the United States.

You know, wear a uniform. Serve their country. Their country – because, in truth, this is the only country they know. It’s the one they call home. And it’s the one Latinos have proven willing to defend again and again.

There’s a long history of it. The very first U.S. admiral was an immigrant’s kid. So was the first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient, Corporal Joseph H. De Castro, who fought at Gettysburg. (Some credit Pvt. Dennis Bennes Barkley with being first because DeCastro was a militiaman, not regular Army. But that’s another story.)

Pedro Cano, though, might be the perfect example of what Brooks is promising “all hell will break loose” over.

Cano was born in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. His family brought him to Texas when he was two months old. Twenty-four years later, in the fall of 1944, he was with a 4th Infantry Division unit pushing toward Berlin in what is today known as the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. With his unit pinned down by German machine-gun fire, Cano crawled across a minefield to take out the first emplacement with a rocket launcher. He then crawled forward to take out a second machine-gun nest with his rifle and grenades. Then he took out another. And another.

Four. Single-handedly. In a single day.

The next day, under similar circumstances, he took out three more. Again, alone.

Then, wounded by a surprise German ambush, Cano lay still as the Nazi soldiers approached. When they were near enough, he tossed a grenade that killed or wounded them all. It save his unit, and left him permanently disabled.

He was granted two Silver Stars, a Purple Heart, and a Distinguished Service Cross that came in the mail. No ceremony. Just a package. He put it in the closet.

Still, he couldn’t get what he wanted most: American citizenship.

He asked his commander repeatedly. And was repeatedly ignored. If Rep. Brooks of Alabama and people like him, those folks who want to seal off citizenship to a select few (Read: Like them), had been in power back then, Cano would have died a Mexican. In their view, Cano didn’t deserve to carry a U.S. passport, no matter how many American lives he had saved.

But in 1946, after Germany surrendered, after Japan surrendered, after Cano came home and crawled into a bottle to escape the pain of war, his Distinguished Service Cross arrived. Two months later, he was finally granted his citizenship.

In March 2014, he got something more. He was among 24 servicemen – most of them Hispanic – who had been overlooked, ignored or flat out denied the Medal of Honor because of prejudice.

At the award ceremony, President Obama said:

“No nation is perfect. But here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.”

It took 70 years for Pedro Cano to get his medal. But equality? For Rep. Brooks of Alabama and people like him, that’s still a long way off.

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