MELVILLE, N.Y. — I can’t help but wonder whether Rep. Eric Cantor ever heard of a soldier named Rey Cuervo.

I had never heard of Cuervo, and never even thought about the fact that not all U.S. soldiers are American citizens, until I arrived in Baghdad to report on the war in April 2004. My understanding was that I was going to Camp Muleskinner. I spent two days at Baghdad International Airport – two Ringling Bros.-size tents next to an airstrip – because the soldiers tasked with picking me up were busy fighting.

By the time I got to the camp, it wasn’t called Muleskinner anymore. It had been renamed to honor Army Pfc. Rey Cuervo, a soldier, a hero and even a Texan, but not a citizen.

Upon his death, he was awarded a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the Army Achievement Medal. And, posthumously, he was granted citizenship. Now in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, he’s an American forever.

Cuervo was able to serve and die for a country not officially his own because when his parents brought him here from Tempico, Mexico, at age 6, they were able to do so legally. He was one of about 30,000 “green card soldiers” serving in our military when he died.

Cantor, the Republican House majority leader from Virginia, is facing a primary from the right, and he’s just a tiny bit worried. Because of that, even though he’s said he wants an immigration bill on the House floor this year, he said recently that he opposes voting on an amendment to a must-pass Defense Department bill that would let those brought here illegally as children join the armed services and, upon honorable completion of service, be granted permanent status and a path to citizenship.

It is a tiny slice of the larger DREAM Act, which I support, and I don’t quite understand the idea of those who oppose such legislation that it’s “amnesty.” Children do not commit a crime in being moved here by their parents. Thus, no amnesty is necessary to allow them a chance to succeed in the nation in which they’ve been raised.

Imagine 18-year-olds, brought here as children, wanting to enlist, and being told they cannot. How does that make the world better?

Cuervo was in a different situation than these young people, but why? Because his parents brought him here legally, Cuervo had different rights and options than a child of the same age, spirited here illegally, on the same day.

How can it possibly be moral to create different rights or penalties for kids that depend on the actions their parents took when their kids were mere children?

To tell these young people that even honorable service in our armed forces is not enough to give them entree to our society is to tell them that the day they were brought to this country illegally, they became refuse that should simply be thrown away.

I wonder whether Cuervo’s parents, both naturalized citizens, ever think about the fact that he’d likely be alive if they’d come illegally, or never come at all. I wonder whether, when they consider some of the laws applied to immigrant children, they are a bit less proud to be Americans.

Their son exemplified the ideals of this nation by his desire, his honor, his courage and his patriotism. His green card was not what made him worthy.

If you were brought here as a child, you’re an American. If you’re also undocumented and want to fix that by serving in our armed forces, I honor that and want to reward it.

When I look at the ugliness of our politics today, particularly on immigration, I can’t help thinking that we’re trying to solve that problem by becoming a nation people no longer want to come to.

— McClatchy-Tribune Information Services