Irish-born World War II veteran James Patrick O’Donnell has lived a long, vibrant life. He came to the U.S. at the age of four with his family.

He fought alongside members of the greatest generation, serving as a machine gunner in Europe. He then lived in New York and Connecticut for decades before moving to the south to care for an ailing family member.

Along the way, of course, O’Donnell became an American citizen.

Or so he thought.

While enlisting in the military, O’Donnell filed all the paperwork required to become a U.S. citizen. But, according to a news story which recently ran on a Fox network channel in Tennessee, O’Donnell was not, in fact, a citizen.

He told the Memphis TV station, "When I was discharged they had on my discharge papers that I was a citizen. I assumed I was a citizen all that time."

But O’Donnell’s paperwork had never been processed. This snafu remained undetected -- you might say O’Donnell remained an undocumented immigrant -- until he applied for a passport.

That’s when he discovered he had technically never become an American citizen. That oversight was finally corrected earlier this month, when O’Donnell officially became an American citizen.

That’s a nice story if we leave it at that. However, as we exit the 9/11 decade, and venture into the uncharted territory of the 2010s, we also know that immigration remains the most perplexing issue on the American landscape.

Maybe we are glad when a Tiger Woods media frenzy comes along. Why?

Because it gives everyone a break from the impossible task of trying to figure out how to reform America’s immigration system.

But, make no doubt about it. If the war on terror kicked off this 2000s, and health care is drawing this decade to a messy close, then it is immigration which has remained the great, unresolved issue.

Will it remain that way in the coming years? Or worse, will the nativists and alarmists from Main Street to Congress win out by attempting to build unbuildable walls?

That’s not to say we should just lay out the welcome mat and hug every lunatic who wants to come to America.

Consider the recent arrests of five young Muslim men from Virginia, aged 18 -- 24, who had apparently been in contact with the Taliban for months.

If not for the Tiger Woods story, this story would be whipping up a broader anti-immigrant frenzy, and that would be somewhat understandable.

This case is disturbing for many reasons. First and foremost, it undermines the arguments that Muslim youths tend to grow disenchanted and radicalized in Europe, whereas, in America, they tend to assimilate.

These five look like very dangerous fellows, even though they were born in the ol’ U.S.A.

And just this Monday, a court in Pakistan -- where the five men were detained when they suddenly hopped on a plane without telling family members just after Thanksgiving -- ruled that the case must be reviewed by Pakistani authorities.

This means the men will not be sent back to the U.S. for possible prosecution for some time, if ever.

You can see why many people might say, “We should never have let them over here in the first place.”

What a tragic turn of events that would be. And don’t just think about cuddly old veterans such as James Patrick O’Donnell.

Think about all of the immigrants -- Irish, Mexican, Dominican, Russian, and yes, Pakistani -- who have transformed neighborhoods from Queens to Los Angeles.

A recent editorial in the New York Daily News analyzed an extensive report by the Fiscal Policy Institute and

Declared, “Immigration has, in fact, been a vital force in the American economy.

Even in tough times, immigrants boost or replenish the labor pool and inject entrepreneurial energy that opens businesses and creates jobs … providing a road to citizenship for those who are here, while fixing gaping holes in enforcement, is the way to guarantee continued economic benefits for all


We spent this decade avoiding the immigration question. But I don’t think the Tiger Woods scandal will stick around for another 10 years.

(Contact Tom Deignan at [email protected])