A young man who has lived throughout his childhood in the U.S. and has no memory of life in any other country is approached by a Marine recruiter. He is given to understand that if he signs up for military service, he will become a “real American.”
Wishing to leave behind the stigma of being undocumented, he signs on the dotted line and takes an oath swearing allegiance to the United States, and to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. After a few months training, he is deployed to Afghanistan. He takes some shrapnel when a bomb explodes near his encampment.
His tour of duty over, he returns home and attempts to resume civilian life, fighting the demons of PTSD. He marries and fathers a son.
After an evening of drinking, he becomes embroiled in a fight. Falling back on his violence training in the military, he physically attacks his opponent. The police arrive, he’s taken into custody, and charged with assault and battery.
Given 10 minutes with a public defender, he is found to be guilty. ICE somehow hears of his conviction, comes and takes him into custody. He is shocked and profoundly disappointed when he hears that NO, he is not a citizen, and NO, his military combat service and his purple heart do not make him a U.S. citizen. Leaving his weeping wife standing on the floor of the courtroom, he is escorted, in shackles, to the airport, to be sent to the country of his birth.
Variations of the above scenario have actually happened, over, and over. Undocumented young people are recruited – coerced? – into fighting in our “War on Terror,” place their bodies in harm’s way, spending valuable years of their young lives and risking even the end of life. Then, if they make a poor choice, as many young people do, they are thanked for their service by deportation. Former American military service members are languishing in many countries, where they may not have any family or other connections. A large number of them are in Central America and Mexico.
My friend and former fourth-grade student and I had occasion to meet and speak with several of the deported veterans. We were participating in the Encuentro, a demonstration against human rights violations that are impacting many people in Latin America. Encuentro is a joint effort organized by the School of Americas Watch, Veterans For Peace and several immigrants’ rights groups. This event took place Nov. 16-18 at Nogales, Ariz., and simultaneously at Nogales, Sonora, just across the fence.
On the Saturday, we participated in events on the Mexican side. We talked with veterans, many carrying Veterans For Peace flags. They had come to the event from Tijuana, where many of the deported veterans are living, and where two veterans have established Unified U.S. Deported Veterans to help veterans with information. They work on the Mexican side, their wives on the U.S. side. Such organizational ability is lost to our country by our practice of deporting people because of their place of birth.
We listened to their stories, how they miss their families, their disrupted lives, the unavailability of their earned veterans’ benefits, their difficulties adapting to life in a strange country.
Charles Powell, President of the Albuquerque Chapter of Veterans For Peace, has made contact with a deported veteran from New Mexico. He has requested that Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham pardon this man who has served, in order that he may be legally reunited with his family. Letters or calls to Lujan Grisham on his behalf would be appreciated.
Sally-Alice Thompson lives in Albuquerque.