In Bush's War on Terror, Immigrants Are Both Soldiers and Targets

Just three hours before President Bush delivered his State of the Union speech, my nephew, Eric, a former undocumented Salvadoran immigrant who is now stationed with the National Guard near the Afghan-Pakistani border, wrote me an email in Spanish. "A suicide bomber blew himself up at our front gate this morning. Ten people were killed, 15 wounded. I volunteered and helped pick up the dead and human remains. Esta bien feo esto (this is really ugly)."

I thought of Eric as I listened to President Bush trying to rally the country around his "new strategy" with words like, "The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others."

Eric was born a child of war. I recall him as a boy in tattered jeans playing with toy guns while slightly older teenagers played out the latest insurgent and counterinsurgent military strategies in the jungles and mountains outside his hamlet. In an earlier phone call, Eric compared their struggle to the war he's now fighting. "The Taliban and Al Qaeda fight like the FMLN (the former guerillas in El Salavador). They strike for a time and then you don't see them for a long time until the next attack. It heats up and then it cools off." I've interviewed top strategists at West Point -- those who now guide Eric and other solders in the "new strategy" confirm Eric's insight.

When Bush tells us he will continue to prepare the country for what was going to be a "long war" -remember how the invasion of Afghanistan was first called "Operation Infinite Justice" before being renamed "Operation Enduring Freedom"? - I worry about Eric's son, who is not doing so well in his elementary school.

Little Juan plays with toy guns and goes to a poorly-funded public school whose administrators are required to give military recruiters students' names, phone numbers and other personal information under the No Child Left Behind Act requirements.

In his speech, Bush framed comprehensive immigration reform as a national security issue, one requiring policies that leave "border agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists." If the "war on terror" lasts as long as Bush said it will, his message tells immigrant families like ours that the war on immigration will also last for generations to come.

When I mentioned to Eric that Bush would be talking about immigration during the speech, he told me, "I don't like to talk about politics, Tío." After I told him I understood, he did, however, tell me, "They (the National Guard) asked me if I want to go protect the border after I get back." "What do you think? You gonna do it?" I asked. He remained silent, as if weighing his words for an audience larger than just me.

We went on to talk about bringing back beautiful Afghan rugs for my folks' anniversary and going to dance salsa when he next visits me in New York. From the sound of his voice, he seemed to be struggling to come to grips with how war has shaped his short life in so many different ways. "You know what?" he confided as we said our "hasta pronto" goodbyes, "there's no way I'm going to the (U.S.-Mexico) border."

Before I could ask him if it had anything to do with Bush, immigration, the war and the like, he said, "All that's political bullshit."


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