Commentary

A gay immigrant was the American Revolution’s biggest hero. Donald Trump would have discharged him.

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia

From the time he first descended the golden escalator in Trump Tower to announce his presidential run in 2015, Donald Trump has continually demeaned, stereotyped, and scapegoated immigrants, especially Muslims and Latinx people.

He once stated: “The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems. [Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”

Not soon after being elected president in 2016, Trump ordered that the children of undocumented immigrants be taken from their parents and placed into dehumanizing and horrifying cages

After two of President Trump’s travel bans from majority Muslim countries were struck down in the courts, the Supreme Court approved Trump’s September 2017 travel ban into the U.S. from 5 majority Muslim countries: Somalia, Iran, Libya, Yemen, & Syria, plus North Korea and senior government officials from Venezuela.

In Trump, President of the United States, et al. v. Hawaii, et al., the Supreme Court ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that “The [Trump] Proclamation is squarely within the scope of Presidential authority” on national security grounds.

A blistering dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated, “The majority here completely sets aside the President’s charged statements about Muslims as irrelevant. That holding erodes the foundational principles of religious tolerance that the court elsewhere has so emphatically protected, and it tells members of minority religions in our country ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’”

In an Oval Office meeting on January 11, 2018, Trump became frustrated with legislators when they proposed restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration plan. “Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?” Trump said, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway.

Trump eventually enlarged his dehumanizing representations to include all people of Latin America. In his January 19, 2019, White House speech on immigration, he continued attempting to metamorphose people desperate for a better way of life for themselves and their families into deranged and dangerous rapists, gang members, human traffickers, and drug smugglers out to subvert “good” Americans (read as white people).

The facts, though, contradict Trump’s hateful descriptions of immigrants in his divide and conquer strategy to instill fear in his supporters.

A report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) studied crime rates in the U.S. and found, “Contrary to public perception, we observe considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born US citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years.”

In addition, the Stanford Institute for Policy Research found that “the likelihood of an immigrant being incarcerated is 60% lower than of people born in the United States.”

In his current campaign to recapture the White House, Trump asserted that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” echoing sentiments expressed by Hitler and Mussolini

Actually, undocumented immigrants are filling many of the gaps in the economy by working jobs that U.S. citizens do not want to fill. They are paying taxes, raising children, and most believe in the American Dream – that they can build better lives for themselves and their families.

They are not “poisoning the blood of our country.” Instead, they are risking their lives and spilling their blood to protect it.

Under an order from Donald Trump’s Department of Defense (DOD) in 2018, the U.S. Army suddenly and without much fanfare discharged immigrant recruits and reservists who enlisted under a program initiated in 2008 that led to a path to naturalized citizen status. When pressed for a reason for the order, DOD officials told recruits that they pose “security risks” to the U.S. because they have family members abroad for whom the military cannot properly conduct background checks.

J.C. Julius Langbein, Musician, USCIS Buffalo Field Office

Capt. Adolphe Libaire – Civil War, USCIS Baltimore Field Office

President George W. Bush started the program – known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) – to increase the number of troops among steadily declining citizen recruitment.

Boilermaker Edward Floyd – Spanish-American War, USCIS Charleston Field Office

Sgt. John Kennedy – Civil War, USCIS Fort Smith Field Office

The Trump DOD announced that “All service members (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve),” as well as those who have received honorable discharges, “are protected from deportation.” According to lawyers for several of the immigrant recruits, however, their clients have been given an “uncharacterized discharge,” a neutral designation falling under the standard of “honorable.”

Pvt. Cornelius J. Leahy – Spanish-American War, USCIS Fresno Field Office

Pvt. Joseph Frantz – Civil War, USCIS Indianapolis Field Office

But this reversal of policy was yet another clear and unambiguous attack on immigrants and immigration from the Trump administration. Also obvious is the fact that Donald Trump lacks interest in and knowledge of the vital role immigrant military recruits have played in the history of the United States.

Pvt. Joseph Frantz – Civil War, USCIS Indianapolis Field Office

Pvt. Charles Bieger – Civil War, USCIS Kansas City Field Office

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a renowned tactical military specialist from Prussia, arrived on the shores of Portsmouth, New Hampshire on September 26, 1777. His purpose was to join the Continental Army in its Revolutionary War of Independence against the British.

Cpl. John J. Beaufort – Civil War, USCIS New Orleans Field Office

Spc. Leslie Sabo Jr.– Vietnam, USCIS Pittsburgh Field Office

By this time, the Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia in advance of oncoming British troops and had settled in York, Pennsylvania. General George Washington was commanding a ragtag band of volunteers, and Steuben donated his services for no salary to develop a military training program.

Sgt. Jesus S. Duran – Vietnam War, USCIS San Bernardino Field Office

Lt. Col. Frederick Füger– Civil War, USCIS Philadelphia Field Office

What Steuben accomplished was nothing short of phenomenal, for he turned a scrubby assemblage of farmers and merchants into a unified, efficient, and powerful force.

He instituted a method of “progressive training,” a sort of school for soldiers. He raised the standards for uniform maintenance and military hygiene. He taught the effective use of the bayonet, which increased soldiers’ ability to attack and defend themselves even when their rifles were unloaded.

Army Sergeant Major John M. Farquhar – Civil War, USCIS Buffalo, New York Verification Operations Center

Army Staff Sergeant Isadore Jachman – World War II, USCIS 111 Massachusetts Ave. Headquarters Building, Washington, DC

His techniques are credited for the Continental Army’s victory in several battles, including the Battle of Stony Point. He also developed an efficient system of camp sanitation by developing standards and the more effective arrangement of tents and other living structures, latrines, and mess halls. These procedures remained in effect in the U.S. military for more than a century and a half.

Army Air Force Sergeant Archibald Mathies – World War II, USCIS Dallas District Office

Army Trumpeter Isaac Payne – Indian Wars, USCIS Denver District Office

General Washington gave Steuben command of one of the army’s divisions for the final battle at Yorktown. Following the victory, Steuben assisted Washington in demobilizing the army in 1783 and helped craft a defense policy for the infant nation.

Army Private First Class George Dilboy – World War I, USCIS Detroit District and Field Offices and Application Support Center

Army Private First Class Silvestre Santana Herrera – World War II, USCIS Field Office, Orlando, Florida

Steuben was awarded a military discharge with full honors on March 24, 1783. Through an act of the Pennsylvania legislature in March 1784, Steuben became a citizen of the United States and later settled on Manhattan Island.

Navy Chief Watertender Peter Tomich – World War II, USCIS Headquarters Conference Center, Washington, DC

Army Sergeant James Mestrovich – World War I, USCIS Headquarters History Office and Library, Washington, DC

Steuben contributed profoundly to the Continental Army’s victory over the British, which resulted in what we know today as the United States of America. He deserves a prominent place in the pantheon of our country’s military leaders. Yet, how many of us have ever heard of him?

Where is he mentioned in our school textbooks, or in the discussions focusing on the founding of the United States? Why has this hero who contributed so greatly been virtually forgotten, while lesser figures are referenced constantly?

Marine Corps Sergeant Louis Cukela – World War I, USCIS Hialeah, Florida Field Office and Application Support Center

Army Technician Fifth Grade Eric Gibson – World War II, USCIS Kendall, Florida Field Office and Application Support Center

I would put forth that the primary reason for this erasure is the documented historical evidence that Steuben was an immigrant (whose family could not be properly vetted), and because he was, in modern terminology, widely considered to be “gay.”

Army Sergeant Thomas Plunkett – Civil War USCIS Lawrence, Massachusetts Field Office and Application Support Center

Army Sergeant Major Abraham Cohn – Civil War USCIS Manchester, New Hampshire Field Office

Each year, on March 25, the U.S. commemorates National Medal of Honor Day set aside to recognize recipients of our nation’s highest award for bravery and courage. Since the first Medals of Honor were presented during the Civil War, more than 700 recipients of the award have been illustrious immigrants who went over and above the call of duty on the field of battle.

Army Corporal Tibor “Ted” Rubin – Korea USCIS Oakland Park, Florida Field Office and Application Support Center

Navy Chief Gunner’s Mate Thomas Eadie – Interim Period of 1920-1940 USCIS Providence Rhode Island Field Office

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recognizes the exceptional bravery of this exclusive group of heroes by dedicating spaces in 29 facilities in their names. These 29 are listed throughout this commentary.

Marine Corps Sergeant Matej Kocak – World War I, USCIS Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina Field Office and Application Support Center

Army Staff Sergeant Laszlo Rabel – Vietnam, USCIS Southeast Regional Office Orlando, Florida

Marine Corps Private Henry Lewis Hulbert – Philippine Insurrection, USCIS West Palm Beach Florida Field Office and Application Support Center

If it had not been for the efforts of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a gay immigrant, and all the fine immigrant military service members since the first joined in 1775, we very well could find ourselves under the realm of Queen Elizabeth II from the House of Windsor, rather than under the rule of would-be King Donald from the House of Orange.

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