Posted: Nov 17, 2021 10:50 GMT
After military service, Valente and Manuel Valenzuela found it difficult to rejoin civilian life and became involved in minor crimes. In 2009, they received notices that the government was seeking to deport them.
Two Latino brothers, veterans of the Vietnam War, live a similar situation to that of thousands of other foreigners, under the threat of being deported for minor crimes committed after their military service. His experience was portrayed in the documentary American Exile that premiered this Tuesday on the occasion of Veterans Day in the United States.
The brothers Valente and Manuel Valenzuela, now both in their 70s, participated as youth in the Vietnam War as volunteers. Once, to save his own life, Valente was forced to behead a violent terror suspect. When they finished their military service, it was difficult for them to re-integrate into civilian life and they ended up committing minor crimes. Despite being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and considered disabled, over the years they both managed to readjust and rebuild their lives.
However, in 2009 they received notifications that the US government was carrying out the corresponding procedures to deport them, NBC News reports.
“There are no words to describe how we feel. The last thing we think when we go to bed and when we wake up is that we are on the expulsion list,” Valente said, adding that his situation, along with that of other veterans, is an “embarrassment to the United States”.
Out of anxiety about being deported, Valente decided to go into exile in Mexico and ended up throwing the commemorative medals he won after the war into the Rio Grande.
As for Manuel, as reflected in the documentary filmed over seven years, he became an activist and decided to take his cause to the White House with the aim of requesting a presidential order that ends the deportation of veterans. On his way to Washington, he toured the country raising awareness of his situation and learning stories similar to his own.
“To this day, most people don’t know that the United States is deporting veterans. People always ask me, ‘Are we really doing this?’” Manuel said.
Illegal Immigration Act of 1996
In a context of migratory waves from Latin America, between the eighties and nineties, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) in 1996. The new law eliminated judicial discretion and it prohibited the judges from considering factors such as the service provided to the country, family, medals of honor, disability due to military service and longevity, as well as minor offenses that became a cause of deportation. In addition, the regulations are retroactive, “which means that someone can be ordered to leave the country for crimes committed literally decades ago,” explained attorney Mariela Sagastume.
This has put thousands of veterans who served the US Army in danger of being deported. According to NBC, there is no official number of veterans that the government has deported, because immigration authorities do not keep statistics on the military service of deportees. “The phrase ‘Thank you for your service’ really sounds hollow when you see how the United States has treated these veterans,” reflected Jan Ruhman, a former military officer and activist. “They were discarded “, he highlighted.
Following ongoing complaints, the Joe Biden Administration in July ordered the Department of Homeland Security to immediately create a procedure for deported veterans and their families to return home.
Manuel’s case has received an administrative dismissal, but he is vulnerable to a motion to reschedule his deportation. “It’s like a lull in the deportation case. In a sense, you’re still in limbo,” Sagastume said.