By The Wonk Room
Two days ago, President Obama announced that the world’s most wanted terrorist had been captured and killed by U.S. special forces. A CIA-led Navy SEALs squadron of just a few dozen men were tapped to perform the mission. One of the soldiers selected to participate in the “counterterrorism group [that is] so specialized that no one can apply to join it” is Rubén Mejía, the son of Mexican immigrants.
Mexico’s El Universal newspaper reports that Mejía’s parents came to the U.S. from Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico. Rubén Mejía was born in the U.S. and enlisted at the Moreno Valley, California military base six years ago. After spending 7 months in Afghanistan, Mejía joined the SEALs and was able to see Osama Bin Laden’s corpse as it was carried out of the building where he was killed.
Mejía’s father, a machine operator, recalled the moment that soldiers in uniform came to his home in Los Angeles holding a folded flag. “It was one of the biggest scares,” explained Martín Mejía. “When they [the soldiers] saw us [the family] begin to cry they clarified that bringing the flag was an expression of recognition and honor because our son had carried out a great mission for our nation,” stated the SEAL’s father.
For a long time, Latinos were underrepresented in the armed forces. Yet, this started to change dramatically as the Army launched “a vast recruiting campaign targeting Latino youth, placing ads in Spanish-language media, including magazines, radio, and television.” In fact, several military experts have come out in support of the DREAM Act which would legalize undocumented youth who go to college or serve in the military precisely because it would significantly increase the pool of qualified recruits in the Latino population — which comprises the majority of undocumented immigrants and is more likely to enlist and serve in the military than any other group.
There is a flip side to this as well. Casualties among Latino soldiers in Iraq ranked the highest compared to other minority groups in 2007. In fact, Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez — an orphan who made the 2,000-mile journey from Guatemala City to the U.S. at age 14 — was one of the first U.S. servicemen killed in combat in Iraq.
Meanwhile, many also claim that Latinos are being left out of the military’s highest ranks. “In the last 75 years, there have been only three (Latino) officers on active duty with three stars and just one with four. What’s the problem? We’re as capable, competent and educated as any other segment of society,” retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez stated last year. If the hundreds of Latinos who have died serving our country abroad aren’t enough to change that, hopefully Rubén Mejía’s brave and historic actions are.