By ELLIOT SPAGAT
Marcial Rodriguez, a U.S. Marine who grew up in a Mexican farming village, is offended that the country he went to war for might deport his relatives who are living here illegally.
Three months after the lance corporal returned to Ohio from the fighting in Iraq, the U.S. House adopted a bill that would make Rodriguez's cousin a felon for being one of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.
Rodriguez, 20, said he enlisted in the Marine reserves to repay the debt he felt owed to a country that had given him an education and a home for his family.
"People from many different countries are fighting, not just from Mexico," he said. "We want to participate in this country."
It is unclear how many soldiers find their loyalties similarly divided, but at a time when the Pentagon has stepped up recruiting of Hispanics to fill recruiting quotas, experts say a crackdown on illegal immigration would undoubtedly cause resentment in the ranks.
"How do you tell them we're going to deport their parents and grandparents?" asked Hector Flores, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a group that has encouraged Hispanics who do not plan to attend college to join the military. "That's not America."
Hispanics are increasingly joining the military as their numbers have grown, according to a 2004 study on Marine recruitment by CNA Corp., a research firm in Arlington, Va. The study found Hispanics have done exceptionally well in the Marines, with boot-camp attrition rates well below average.
Hispanics accounted for 16.5 percent of Marine recruits last year, up from 13.4 percent in 2002 and 11.7 percent in 1997, the firm said.