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20 May, 2010 00:48

Mexican President Calderon honors Mexican-American soldiers

During his state visit, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is taking time to recognize a unique group of Mexican-Americans.

Calderon's visit Arlington National Cemetery is one of many stops he will make during his time with US President Barack Obama. The two men hope to work through some of the many problems shared by the two neighbors, including immigration reform and the war on drugs. Obama welcomed the Mexican president in a Rose Garden ceremony.

"Our progress today marks another step forward in a new era of cooperation and partnership between our countries – a partnership based on mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual responsibility," said Obama.

Some of that responsibility includes military engagement.  Calderon will be the first Mexican president in US history to lay a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington. Analysts say the act shows the Mexican president honoring the the sacrifices Latino families have made for American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Government statistics show 11 percent of the US military is made up of Latinos, a 15 percent increase over figures from the 1980s. In 2002, former US President George W. Bush signed an executive order granting new recruits citizenship status after signing up for the armed forces. Critics insist that this move has contributed to an influx in Latin Americans joining the military more to obtain legal status than for any patriotic reasons.

In 2005, the Pentagon estimated that more than 100,000 Mexicans were serving in the U.S. army. But that number represents only 3 percent of the entire Latino population fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And some of those returning from war face serious challenges, ranging from the deportation of family members to increased discrimination because of their heritage. Although they have fought for the United States overseas, for soldiers coming home, the battles are sometimes just beginning.