Did You Know That One of the First US Servicemen Killed in Iraq War Was Undocumented?

Lost in the narratives of patriotism and good ol’ American apple pie is the story of Marine Lance Corporal José Gutierrez, one of the first U.S. serviceman to die in combat during the Iraq War. We got this tip from a community member on our Facebook page, and after we checked out the 2003 TIME magazine story about Gutiérrez, it was true.

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Here is an portion of the TIME piece:

In death, the first U.S. serviceman to be killed in combat in Gulf War 2 will receive what he always wanted in life: American citizenship. Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutiérrez was shot in the chest as his unit took heavy fire in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Everyone believed he was 22. But his true age is part of a story of epic persistence that took him from Guatemala to Los Angeles, from the life of an orphan to the life of a Marine.

You should read the rest of the TIME piece. It tells a harrowing story of how Gutiérrez left Guatemala and wound up in the United States, undocumented and orphaned. He eventually gained asylum and this happened:

After winning asylum, Gutiérrez shuffled between foster homes and was eventually placed with Marcelo and Nora Mosquera, themselves immigrants from Latin America. The Mosqueras, who have three biological children of their own, have raised 30 foster children. And so the Guatemalan orphan who had barely a family suddenly had a tribe of foster siblings. Still, he never forgot [his sister] Engracia and the hardships she continued to live with in Guatemala. He would send her $20 or $30 whenever he could. Gutiérrez went to high school and community college, and dreamed of being an architect. But, on the advice of a foster brother, he joined the military. There was a reward he hoped to claim by joining the armed services: citizenship. And once he was an American, he’d be able to bring his sister over. He became a Marine less than a year before he died, joining the infantry as a rifleman in the First Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton, California.

The 2003 story concludes:

In honor of his military service and death in combat, federal authorities have made him eligible for posthumous citizenship. All that needs to be done is for his next of kin to take his death certificate and $80 to an immigration office and Gutiérrez will become an American. Had Gutiérrez lived, his dream for his sister could have come true. She would have qualified to immigrate to the U.S. had he been naturalized. But that dream died with José Gutiérrez in Iraq.

A USA Today piece corroborates the TIME piece. A 2006 HuffPost piece also mentioned Gutiérrez. A 2010 Think Progress story covered Gutiérrez’s story in the context of passing The DREAM Act.

Why do we not hear about Gutiérrez’s story during our Memorial Day celebrations? Is it because his story does not fit the current immigration debate that all “illegals” are criminals? How quickly this country forgets those who shed their blood for it. Especially when you weren’t even a citizen.

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