Vietnam veteran fighting deportation gets visit from Colorado secretary of state

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The immigration debate in the United States is nothing new. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform Act, requiring any immigrant in the country illegally to get a government waiver or get out.

However, military veterans started being deported by the federal government.

This consequence of a decades-old law is the subject of a documentary that includes local veteran Manuel Valenzuela, who had a captive audience when he viewed the work in progress.

“When I served, we each brought each other home,” Valenzuela said. “That oath is kept forever.”

Valenzuela is a U.S. Marine who, like his brother, served in Vietnam. He has told their story a number of times, doing so with the same passion every time.

Recently, he told his story to Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who visited Valenzuela’s Colorado Springs home to view the documentary, “American Exile.”

“The film talks about his efforts and efforts of his brother to make sure that their service is recognized,” Williams said.

The Valenzuelas are among a handful of veterans profiled in the film, which illustrates their ongoing struggles with deportation.

“In their case, we determined it is our belief that they are American citizens,” Williams said.

Williams was crucial in Valenzuela staying in the country.

Valenzuela had just received the news when we first talked to him in the spring. While he can call America his home, many other veterans are not so fortunate. Valenzuela has made it his mission to advocate for those vets who are struggling to stay in the United States.

“When I came home from the jungle, I came back with PTSD and was self-medicating like a lot of these guys. They don’t have any help and end up being deported,” Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela and the film say the law was intended to deport immigrants committing serious crimes. However, military veterans with smaller infractions of the law are being sent back to their native countries.

According to the film, 65,000 immigrants are serving in the American military on an annual basis.

Jan Rubman is a Vietnam vet and advocate in the film.

“We have never had a veteran deported, but since 1996, we’ve had about 4,000 to 5,000 a year,” Rubman said.

Valenzuela hopes the documentary will help get the word out about those vets whose voices aren’t being heard. He hopes more and more lawmakers like Williams will realize each case needs to be examined independently.

“That’s what keeps me going,” Valenzuela said.

“You have to look at the facts involved and then you can determine on a case-by-case basis,”  Williams said.

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