When Manuel Jesus Valenzuela was eighteen, he knew he wanted to serve his country, so he enlisted in the US Marines.
In 1971, many young men were doing their best to avoid the draft. Valenzuela, though, volunteered and was sent to Vietnam within months of becoming a Marine. During four years of military service, he was deployed there three times.
He spent his time on the border of Vietnam flying helicopter missions into the country to rescue troops that were being ambushed.
His older brother was also sent to Vietnam having joined the military two years earlier. Both brothers are now at risk of being evicted from the country they served.
They were born in Mexico although their mother is a US citizen. By law, they should be entitled to US citizenship. But they are facing deportation from the country they fought to protect.
Valenzuela said that his world “stopped right there” when he received a removal notice in 2009. Since then, the brothers have repeatedly received notices from the Department of Homeland Security to appear in court. Every time they go and plead their case, they fail to gain any closure.
Valenzuela thinks a misdemeanor is the cause of his problems. After celebrating a wedding decades ago, he had admitted his guilt to a charge of being drunk and disorderly.
He claims combat is the reason he drank. “That was our medication – drinking and drugs that was our help at the time – cause we didn’t have no help from the VA,” Valenzuela said.
According to a bill passed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, permanent residents that are not naturalized citizens face deportation for minor legal issues.
The law allows the American Government to detain and deport immigrants, including legal permanent US residents, for relatively trivial, nonviolent criminal convictions. Opponents of the bill say that the Government is using the law to force immigrants out of the country.
The exact number of veterans facing deportation is tough to pin down. Many of them give up and leave without notifying anyone. Valenzuela estimates there is anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000 combatants facing the same situation as he and his brother.
When Valenzuela received his notice, he felt shame and did not want to tell anyone about it. Now, he is continually talking about it as he is advocating for other vets by communicating with lawmakers around the country while he continues to fight his own deportation proceedings.
Colorado Representative Pete Lee is one of the lawmakers who are aware of Valenzuela’s struggle. He believes that someone who fought for his country deserves “the rights and privileges of citizenship.”
Lois Landgraf is a state representative in the 18th District in Colorado. Her husband also served in Vietnam, so she is familiar with the needs of veterans. She feels the Government needs to do all it can to help those who have sacrificed for their country.
US Representative Doug Lanborn (R) believes that bureaucratic red tape is getting in the way. He feels the system needs to be reformed as it cannot work the way it is currently configured.
Valenzuela is rarely at home. He spends almost all of his time traveling around the country, working to help his fellow veterans.
On April 20, 2016, a bill was introduced to readmit veterans who had been deported and were not convicted of serious crimes. It also stopped the deportation of veterans in the future.
As of today, there is no resolution for these patriots.