Brothers Valente and Jesus Manuel Valenzuela, war veterans with suspended deportation orders, announced Wednesday the launching of a campaign to help Hispanic former U.S. soldiers in their same situation or who have already been deported.
"We're going to start a trip to begin the year making known many issues related to this odyssey. The people of this country should know what's happening to the families of our deported veteran brothers," said the Valenzuelas in a communique.
The initiative is supported by Point Man International Ministries of Colorado Springs, where the brothers live.
"We already did our part by serving this country. Now it's the people's turn to do their part and donate (to this project)," the brothers said.
In the past, the pair of siblings turned to the media to tell their story, they showed up in uniform during more than one visit by President Barack Obama to Colorado, they signed a letter to first lady Michelle Obama, traveled to Washington to speak with lawmakers and presented their case to politicians and academicians.
Now, they say, they want to make known the situation of hundreds of Hispanic veterans who have already been deported and the problems that face their families here in the United States.
To do that, during January and February the brothers will travel to Mexico and several Southwestern states accompanied by two independent filmmakers with the aim of shooting a documentary about deported Hispanic veterans or ones on the verge of being expelled.
Valente and Manuel Valenzuela are among the 11 children of a New Mexico woman and her Mexican-born U.S. citizen husband.
Valente joined the U.S. Army in 1967 and Manuel was a Marine from 1971-1974. Both were decorated for their service in Vietnam.
Seven years ago, federal authorities informed the pair that they had never been properly registered as U.S. citizens.
In 2005, Jesus received his deportation order. A year later, Valente was also notified he would be deported. Both deportations were confirmed in 2009, but then they were postponed.
The reason for that, according to what the Valenzuela brothers were told, is that, although the Department of Homeland Security does not accept the documents that they say prove they are citizens, it cannot prove that they are not.
In October, Fox News Latino published a story on a a Deported Veterans Support Home in Mexico setup by two U.S. military veterans, deported after committing crimes, who said they felt deceived because they thought serving would lead to automatic citizenship.
The house offers food, shelter and Internet/telephone access for the dozen or so deported veterans now living here.
Many undocumented immigrants who join the U.S. military simply assume that citizenship is part of the deal, immigration attorney Craig Shagin told Efe.
All U.S. veterans have an entitlement to various educational and medical benefits, but those who are deported have no way to access those benefits, Shagin said.
"It's frustrating to see that there is nothing that can be done," the lawyer said.
Shagin lamented that there are no laws to protect veterans from deportation, though he said there was a proposal in congress in 2010 that never moved forward.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not keep track of how many veterans are deported.
"ICE exercises discretion with people who have been members of the Armed Forces who have served our country honorably on a case by case basis," said Lauren Mack, spokesperson for the ICE office in San Diego.
A June 2011 memo from ICE Director John Morton established military service as a factor that can be taken into consideration in deportation cases.
"Whatever action from ICE that can result in the expulsion of military veterans, needs to be authorized by a field office and evaluated locally," the memo read.
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