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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Decorated War Vets Face Deportation; Colorado Brothers Born In Mexico, Raised In U.S.

By Lance Hernandez
September 22, 2010

DENVER -- Valente and Manuel Valenzuela can’t believe the Department of Homeland Security wants to deport them. The two brothers, who were born in Mexico but grew up in the U.S., are decorated war veterans, whose mother was a U.S. citizen.

Valente, 62, of Colorado Springs, told 7NEWS that he volunteered for the Army to avoid having to repeat 10th grade.

“They sent me to Vietnam,” he said, “after telling me they wouldn’t.”

Valente was awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery. He still has the scars to prove how difficult his job was.

“I have been dealing with post traumatic stress disorder for 42 years. I have Agent Orange on my hands,” he said. “My skin is discolored from Agent Orange from burying the canisters. I have bullet burns on my belly and have undergone three surgeries.”

Valente’s brother, Manuel, said he joined the Marines to avoid being drafted into the Army.

“We were in the jungle. It was hard,” Manuel said. “All you want to do is forget it.”

The brothers were stunned when they received letters from the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 informing them that they would face deportation hearings.

“It made me angry,” Valente said. “At first I wanted to go back to the International Bridge and burn an American flag and throw my medals back across the river. I was that angry.”

Then he and his brother decided to fight for their rights.

When asked why the government wanted to deport them, Valente said he had a domestic violence charge on his record from years ago.

Manuel said he too got into trouble and resisted arrest.

Both brothers believe their behavior may have been related to PTSD, which they are now receiving counseling for.

“I feel sick to my stomach that they’re going through this,” said attorney Mariela Sagastume. “They bravely served their country. They are war heroes. Who’s going to stand up for them?”

The attorney said that if the brothers are deported, “They will be stripped of all these resources, all the help, and they will be sent to a country they haven’t been to in decades.”

Sagastume told 7NEWS that both brothers crossed over to the U.S. as legal permanent residents in 1955.

“Because their mother was a U.S. citizen born in the U.S., they should have been issued citizenship,” she said. “I believe that an error was made.”

Immigration law was slightly different from 1941 to 1952 when the brothers were born.

The law then required the American parent to have resided in the U.S. for at least 10 years, five of those after the age of 16.

Sagastume said the brother’s mom met that requirement. “They lived along the border and she crossed over frequently,” Sagastume said. “We believe we can prove continuous presence here.”

“We are veterans and we are proud of what we did,” Manuel said. “It was hard during the war, but this is worse.”

Valente said he feels his government is being treasonous toward him.

“I feel my government has stabbed me in the back,” he said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities declined to comment for this story, saying they have very strict privacy policies for individual cases.

Speaking generally, a public affairs officer with the Executive Office for Immigration Review said there are a variety of reasons why a deportation hearing might be initiated against an individual and that breaking the law is one of them.

Members of the American G.I. Forum in Denver believe the brothers are getting a raw deal.

The Latino veterans group is backing the Valenzuelas in their battle against Homeland Security.

“We have a good cause here and we’re not going to stop until everything is resolved,” said Vice Commander Russell Lopez of the Skyline chapter.

Fellow veterans will lead a rally in support of the Valenzuela brothers at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 29 in front of the new Immigration Court at 621 17th St.