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Senate Immigration Bill Gets Reinforcements

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman gives moving testimony about family and war experiences.

July 11, 2006|Buddy Nevins | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI — The nation's top general Monday tearfully recalled his Italian parents' struggles when they arrived in the United States, and senators said his emotional testimony could help them gain leverage in the battle over changing the nation's immigration laws.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, a Marine general who has served in Vietnam and Somalia, testified at a special field hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It was designed to highlight the role of immigrants in the military.

"My dad came here, sometimes worked three jobs, but the jobs were there for him and the opportunities were there for him," Pace said. "There is no other country on the planet that affords that opportunity to those who come."

He told the five senators that the first Marine he lost as a rifle platoon leader in Vietnam was an immigrant.

"I still owe those who served with me in Vietnam," he said.

Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) brought the hearing to Miami to build support for the Senate's immigration bill, which offers a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who pay fines and back taxes and who pass background checks. That bill differs from an enforcement-only House measure that would increase fines on employers who hire illegal immigrants and would make illegal immigration a felony.

The hearing was particularly important because Senate and House members will meet soon to find a compromise, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Also testifying Monday was Medal of Honor recipient Alfred Rascon, who told senators none of his fellow soldiers cared whether he was an immigrant when he threw himself on wounded comrades to shield them from bullets and grenade blasts in Vietnam.

"These men who fought with me and died beside me never asked my legal status," said Rascon, a Mexican immigrant who became a citizen after serving in Vietnam. He went on to become director of the Selective Service System.

The hearing was in Miami-Dade County, where more than half of the residents were born outside the United States.

As expected, senators were received warmly at Miami Dade College's downtown Miami campus, where flags from 82 counties flew at the graduation ceremony.

Speakers included Jose Morin, 61, of Miami, a Florida National Guard veteran who served in Iraq. For Morin, it was an important step to support the Senate position. "It reinforces for everybody the important contribution of the immigrant in this nation, our nation," said Morin, who left Havana in 1961.

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