Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez--Illegal Immigrant, American Hero

Maybe everyone already knows this or has talked about it and I just missed it. Maybe I don't pay enough attention to the blogs, but in this whole immigration debate this was the first time I'd heard the following fact--one of the first U.S. fatality in Iraq was an illegal immigrant. Here is an AP story on the life and tragic death of Jose Gutierrez:

LOS ANGELES -- One of the first U.S. servicemen killed in combat in Iraq was not a citizen of the country for which he sacrificed his life.

Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, a rifleman with the Marines, died in a firefight March 21 near Umm Qasr.

Born in Guatemala, Gutierrez held permanent U.S. resident status, which he obtained in 1999.

At 14, with his parents dead, Gutierrez followed the path of 700,000 of his countrymen to California. He made the 2,000-mile journey from his Guatemala City neighborhood without entry papers. He hopped 14 freight trains to get through Mexico. U.S. immigration authorities detained him.

Fernando Castillo, Guatemala's consul general in Los Angeles, says the United States doesn't deport Guatemalan minors who arrive without family. Gutierrez was made a ward of Los Angeles Juvenile Court. He was placed in a series of group homes and foster families. He learned English and finished high school.

When he reached 18, he got residency documents, Castillo said.

Marcelo Mosquera, a machinist from Ecuador, and his wife, Nora, were the last couple that sheltered the lanky teenager. They cared for two younger foster children, as well, at their home in suburban Lomita, said Hector Tobar, a family friend.

Neighbors told the Los Angeles Times that Gutierrez acted as the big brother, taking the younger kids to the nearby McDonald's.

Tobar said Gutierrez talked of becoming an architect but put college plans on hold to join the Marine Corps a year ago. Jackie Baker, the Mosqueras' adult daughter, told Spanish-language KVEA-TV here that Gutierrez "wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything.

The U.S. Embassy notified Gutierrez's older sister, his only surviving relative, of his death. He will be buried in Guatemala at her request, Castillo said.

On this Memorial Day let's remember that Jose represented the best of us. Someone who came to this country for all the right reasons, and who laid down his life in the pursuit of a liberty he only briefly knew. This country gave him everything, and he gave everything for his country. Some people go their entire lives wondering if they made a difference. Marines don't have that problem. Semper Fi, Jose.

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