WASHINGTON — When St. Paul resident Joseph Medina was preparing to ship off to the Pacific theater during World War II, his superiors found out he was an undocumented immigrant and ineligible to serve.
Medina, 29 at the time, had come to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was just five. He moved to St. Paul in 1925 and eventually started a family there. He joined the U.S. Army in January 1944, and his undocumented status cropped up after boot camp.
When Medina’s superiors found out, their solution was simple: He was sent off to an U.S. consulate in Canada, given some papers and told he’d become a citizen on his return trip back.
“That’s all it took, to go to Vancouver, Canada and cross the border coming back,” he said Thursday. Medina, now 99 years old, was in Washington to advocate for immigration reform legislation and visit the World War II Memorial with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
The Senate-passed immigration reform bill would allow undocumented immigrants who grew up in the United States to join the armed forces. The bill has stalled in the House, but GOP leadership has said some version of reform legislation could come up sometime next year. Reform advocates and Democrats are rallying support for the bill this week before the House leaves on recess.
“I try to take the House leadership at their word that they do want to get something done,” Klobuchar, a Democrat, said Thursday. “It’s obviously not going to happen this month, but the hope is when we return in January that they start taking up some of their bills.”
There are 65,000 immigrants serving on active duty, according to Department of Defense figures, or about 5 percent of the force. Klobuchar noted Thursday that 20 percent of Medal of Honor recipients have been born abroad.
“It goes to go show the bravery of our Hispanic veterans as well as those who came from so many other countries and are proud Americans,” she said.
Medina eventually made to active duty, serving in the South Pacific and preparing for a possible ground invasion of Japan under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. When the war ended, he was part of the forces that occupied Japan.
Asked Thursday about his American citizenship, Medina said, “I feel wonderful and proud.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.