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Colorado Springs brothers, Vietnam vets, fight deportation based on misdemeanors

By JOEY BUNCH | The Gazette | Published: November 10, 2016

Colorado Springs brothers Valente and Manuel Valenzuela fought for their country during Vietnam. Now they're fighting their country -- to stay here.

Sunday they will march in the San Francisco Veterans Day Parade as representatives of Stop Deportation of Military Veterans.

The brothers, both in their 60s, have been fighting separate removal orders since 2009. The brothers and most of their siblings were born in Palomas, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande River from Redford, Texas, and they were brought to the U.S. as small children in 1955. They went to public schools. Manuel Valenzuela attended college and five of the eight brothers have collectively served in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.

The removal attempts came as a surprise because their mother was born in New Mexico, which grants citizenship to her children.

"It's crazy," Manuel Valenzuela said of the brothers' legal problems.
He was a Marine who served in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972. Older brother Valente was there in 1968 and was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in combat.

A month apart they received deportation notices from the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, because of old misdemeanors on their records.

When President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 it lengthened the list of crimes that could get a legal resident deported. They have been fighting a paperwork battle and occasional appearances in immigration court for seven years.

The immigration courts tell the brothers it's all about paperwork, they said, and some of it is in dispute by the Valenzuela brothers.

The fact they contend they're U.S. citizens is one issue. The Valenzuela brothers are more incensed that their military service, even combat duty, buys no leeway in misdemeanors.

"It's not right to throw away soldiers," Manuel Valenzuela said.

To date, Stop Deportation of Military Veterans says about 3,000 former service members have been deported since the law passed 20 years ago.

Valenzuela is discouraged by the lack of political will to amend or repeal the law. He supported Barack Obama, but faults him for not addressing veteran deportations. He said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs and Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver haven't helped.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has vowed to step up deportations of those immigrants deemed criminals.

Valenzuela votes with no problem. He was a state delegate for Bernie Sanders this year. He detests the Clintons. Trump? "Get the hell out of here," he said in a Facebook Live video in July. In 2012, on CNN, lawyer and USA Today columnist Raul A. Reyes appeared with the brothers and said they had an obvious case for reversal of the deportation order.

"That is a very minor issue," he said. "We have members of Congress who have misdemeanors."

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