WASHINGTON – Phoenix resident Hassan Quiz had passed all the tests toward his dream of being in the military when he ran up against one he couldn’t pass.
Quiz was brought to this country illegally as a child, making him ineligible to serve in the U.S. military.
So Wednesday, he and eight other illegal immigrants who had been turned away from the service did military-style drills in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, hoping to get a message to Congress.
“We are telling the Congress, we are willing to serve this country, the only country that we know so far,” said Quiz, who said they were only asking for “the opportunity that every other American has.”
He was one of several Arizonans taking part in immigration reform efforts Wednesday in Washington, as advocates continued to try to pressure House leaders into taking action on a reform bill.
Just blocks away from where Quiz was drilling, several dozen Arizonans continued a vigil outside House Speaker John Boehner’s office Wednesday. The group, which rode for two days in a bus from Phoenix, first showed up Tuesday and vowed to keep coming back until they get a meeting with Boehner.
“We drove more than 40 hours to here, we are going to stay until the end of this week,” said Reyna Montoya, one of the group praying outside Boehner’s office.
Wednesday they expanded their vigil to the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Republican Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Cory Gardner of Colorado.
As at Boehner’s office, they were greeted at each office Wednesday by secretaries who said the congressmen were not available.
The bus riders said they did meet with several members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa. Salmon told the group that he “supports fixing what’s broken and believe there is interest in moving forward on addressing these issues,” said Kristine Michalson, his spokeswoman.
Boehner, too, said at a news conference Wednesday that he thinks “immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed, and I’m hopeful.” But he did not give details on how or when it will be addressed.
The Senate in June passed a comprehensive bill that includes visa reform, border security measures and, most importantly to advocates, a potential pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people here illegally.
That bill has stalled in the House, where Boehner has said he will bring up a series of smaller, Republican-backed measures in a “step-by-step process” to fix the system, a spokesman said this week.
That piecemeal approach was criticized Wednesday by House Democrats, who said it is time for action on a comprehensive bill. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., said that expecting a piecemeal approach to solve a complex problem like immigration is a “fallacy.”
“It leads you into a dead end,” Garcia said.
The fight has brought together people like Quiz, a would-be soldier, and Jesus Magana, an Air Force veteran who showed up with the bus riders to protest the fact that his sister is in deportation proceedings.
Both men showed up at a news conference to support a bill that would let immigrants who are in this country illegally enlist in the military. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.
“Coming from a long line of military service in my own family, I believe that any young person who wants to serve our country and dedicate their life to military should be allowed to do so,” Sinema said. “It’s the most patriotic thing.”
Quiz, who was 9 months old when he was brought from Mexico to Arizona, said he has aspired since a young age to enlist in the military.
“My interest to serve in the military started in a young age … starting from playing with my toy soldiers to watching Marine Corps commercials on TV,” he said. “I instantly knew that’s what I want to do in my life.”
He joined the Junior ROTC program at Avondale’s Westview High School, passed the physical tests to enlist and met all the requirements but one – legal residency.
“That was the only thing holding me back,” Quiz said.
Sinema said she hopes for congressional action on an immigration overhaul “before the end of the year.” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., another cosponsor of the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act of 2013, said events like those Wednesday will help pressure House leaders for action.
“You shine a light on the broken immigration reform,” Gutierrez said to the DREAMers, urging them to keep fighting for their dream.
Despite being turned away from the military, Quiz said he still had a passion to serve his country.
“This is my country, I am willing to fight for it,” he said. “I will do whatever it takes and however it takes, as long as I got the opportunity to fight.”