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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Manuel Valenzuela Viet Nam Vet Fights Deportation

 This article originally appeared Viet-nam-vet-valenzuela-continues-in deportation on technocrati

 While immigrant’s rights groups have been protesting for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act, a travesty of justice has been taking place in a silent corner of the immigrant community. Unbeknownst to most, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Administration (ICE) has been busy deporting veterans.

The most recent victim of an “Order For Removal” is Manuel Valenzuela who survived another round in the government’s effort to deport him today. Valenzuela appeared in Denver Immigration Court dressed in a tightly fitting Marine Corp uniform. His continued fight was placed on the docket for September of 2012 in endless legal wrangling perhaps even the judge did not understand.

“Is Mariela Sogastume representing you?” the judge asked.

“Yes, Sir!” replied Valenzuela.

You could not help but notice this was not the ordinary “Yas, your honor” reply. In fact, Valenzuela responded to the judge as if he were summoned by the general. If you didn’t get the point with the uniform, the manner and directness of his reply screamed “I am a veteran!”

Yes, the uniform was tightly fitting. What do you expect after being out of the service for over 25 years? Yep. Manuel not only is a veteran, he is a Viet Nam veteran. He is the same guy who volunteered for service when an entire generation was seeking refuge in college. They called it "deferment" in those days.  The idea was to go to school for so long that the war would be over before the student could graduate.

Maybe something good came out of Nam after all. Thousands of not-so-studious youths got multiple degrees in perfectly useless things like geology while waiting for others to get the dirty work over with, or die trying. Lots of soldiers died trying.

Needless to say, as men bled to death in Southeast Asian rice paddies, and a nation started singing Kum Ba Yah, Manuel was facing Viet Cong resistance flying rescue missions into mainland hot zones and pulling other soldiers out of harms way. These were the days when VC commandants considered soldiers more expendable than bullets because they had a lot more manpower than gun powder, and they had plenty of both!

The news was all about “body counts” and we are not talking about how many hippies you can stick into a VW bug. This was a guerilla war of attrition in which uniforms were not always worn and the enemy spy was flashing a smile at you during the day because he planned to come back and gut you after dark.

One of the reasons why deporting of veterans has remained so quiet is most of them don’t consider themselves immigrants. Valenzuela came here as a little tike, the child of a US citizen born in New Mexico. Everything about him says US citizen. If Uncle Sam is successful in his effort to repatriate a 50 plus year old to his “homeland” it will be to a place he hardly knows, with no means of support, with no family. Imagine waking up and finding you don’t have a country any more, or the country you volunteered to die for does not want you. If you can’t fathom how it would feel, Valenzuela has a word for it. “Devastating.” Marines don’t cry.  Often.  At least not in public.

Lest you think this is one lone royal foul up by ICE, there are two Valenzuelas facing deportation. Manuel’s brother, Valente, also is doing battle with an ungrateful ICE. Valente had a special clearance that put him in working contact with the three letter boys. If he ever gets through his own deportation nightmare he may write a best seller about his work with the CIA in far off jungles and his exposure to Agent Orange.

At the end of his tour, Valente came home with a bronze star and a lifetime of nightmares and post traumatic stress, the nightmares and post traumatic stress being gifts he shares in common with brother Manuel. Lest you think these are two lone royal foul ups by ICE, ask the brothers to talk about the many veterans who have contacted them after already being deported.

Lest you think the USA has an odd way of showing gratitude towards its veterans, well you are damn right about that. In fact, maybe they should put “We Deport Veterans” on the recruiting posters along with “See The World!”

Fortunately, the brothers are in the hands of a very capable attorney who knows her stuff. Her court room decorum tells you this is a pro without the immense ego most legal beagels carry with them. Her modesty comes from her own struggles and personal experience as an immgrant in the land of Oz. Mariela Sogastume "get's it" when someone faces injustice, which gives her a quiet passion about her work.

Perhaps it was a good day in immigration court. Before the proceeding was adjourned, an “officer of the court” which is a code word in the legal profession for “attorney”, announced he must say something in Manuel’s defense.

“Your honor.” the man insisted. “I am an officer of the court and a veteran myself.” and then turning to Valenzuela he shouted in a voice which needed no loud speaker to amplify it. “And I salute you!”   Perhaps he wished he had become a rich geologist instead of a hard working attorney, perhaps not, but there was no mistaking his patriotism!

Everyone froze for just a second after the words zinged through the air. The question for the rest of us who are grateful for men who put their lives on the line for their country, is this the way to treat a veteran? I felt like standing up and joining the salute and then parading out onto the street in protest. This can’t be happening in America, and if it is, it must stop. That was my impression, and U?

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