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NH vets, policy experts discuss immigration reform

New Hampshire supporters of the bipartisan immigration overhaul being debated in the U.S. Senate yesterday described the pride and occasional pain that comes with serving in the country’s military as an immigrant.

The Service Employees International Union, Americans by Choice and the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees organized a panel discussion, featuring two retired veterans, the mother of two active military personnel and a college student serving in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

The student, Hector Rivas, falls under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program President Obama announced last year that puts off deportation for many people brought to the U.S. as children. That allowed Rivas to join the ROTC, but his military aspirations might be cut short due to his documentation status, he said.

Rivas broke down in tears when he described how many people reacted when he graduated as the No. 3 student in his high school class and won a full college scholarship to study mechanical engineering: “You’re taking a spot from a citizen.” But he said whenever he needs inspiration to study harder, he looks at his ROTC uniform.

“I look at my uniform, and say, ‘I’m representing the U.S. Navy,’ ” he said.

Ana Ford, who was born in Panama, came to the United States at age 6. She became a U.S. citizen as a child and later served a combined 22 years in the Navy and reserves. No one ever questioned her loyalty or love for the U.S. during those years, she said, but as the immigration debate heated up seven or eight years ago, she found herself under attack.

Walking down the street in Nashua, a young man stopped and yelled in her face, “Are you illegal?”

“I ended up saying, ‘How many years did you serve your country?’ ” Ford recalled. “The debate ended about then.”

In 2011, she was standing outside the State House in Concord when someone pulled up in a pickup truck and yelled, “Get out of my country!” Ford said.

“I’ve been in this country for 54 years without feeling unwelcome. Now I’m being told to get out of my country,” she said.

The panel was introduced by Fergus Cullen, founder of Americans by Choice and a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. The speakers included George Bruno, an immigration lawyer and former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

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