On Thursday, immigration advocates gathered at Guadalupe Street in San Antonio, Texas, to focus on an issue few care to follow: How the United States continues to deport men and women who have served in this country’s armed forces.
“We need to recognize the contributions of the immigrant and the Latino community as far as our veterans. Let’s allow them to live with dignity and not separate our families,” Pastor Emma Lozano said during a phone interview with Latino Rebels, after attending the San Antonio press conference.
Lozano is part of Chicago’s Lincoln United Methodist Church, one of the organizations leading the press conferences taking place around the country. Avenida Guadalupe Association and Familia Latina Unida are also among the advocates.
These U.S. veterans often hold a green card, which allows them to join the military even though they are not U.S. citizens. After serving their country in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder or some other issues making it difficult for them to adapt to the normal life. Some fall into addiction and commit crimes.
This is the case of Miguel Pérez, who joined the military and served Afghanistan. He is currently at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center and soon to be deported. His mother Esperanza is going around the country joining the advocates to raise awareness and push the administration to free her son.
“My son, who fought for this country, deserves to be in this country,” Perez said during the conference as her voice quivered.
Olivia Segura was also in the room to talk about her struggles. While carrying a U.S, flag, Segura told the story of her daughter, Ashley Sietmesa. She died in Kuwait 2007 while on duty. Alberto, who raised Ashley, is facing deportation for committing a crime related to alcohol and drugs.
But in addition to sharing the stories of these U.S. veterans, advocates are pushing legislators to draft a bill that can protect them from deportation.
Recently, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced the Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2017. If passed, the bill would helped veterans who have already been deported to come back to the United States. This bill is not enough to address the issue. As Lozano said, advocates are pushing legislators like Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-TX) to add more amendments into the bill such as allowing the person to obtain citizenship once he or she enlists into the military.
“We are pushing them [legislators] to include Gold Star families and relatives as well to be included in this bill,” Lozano explained adding that Segura is meeting with Castro to talk about this bill.
As for U.S. veteran Pérez, Lozano will be meeting with Department of Homeland Security staff to discuss his situation.