It sounds reasonable, right? We should deport people who are here illegally if they are involved in criminal activity. But what about Valente and Manuel Valenzuela?
A couple weeks ago, I showed up in downtown Denver at the invitation of some local human rights organizers to be part of a witness outside the courthouse during the deportation hearing for Valente Valenzuela. But when I got there, in the company of Columbine UU Church member and longtime activist Maureen Flanigan, it turned out that at the last minute the hearing had been postponed.
A small number of us demonstrated anyway. We stood with a big sign protesting the deportation of veterans and a poster-sized photo of Valente as a young man, taken during the Tet offensive in Vietnam. There, in the photo, was a young man full of grief and fear, ready to lay down his life for his country—the United States of America—but hoping he wouldn’t have to.
It’s true, Valente and Manuel had both been involved in stuff when they got back from the war. Drugs and alcohol. Both of them were convicted of crimes. But then they went on to live decent lives—working, raising families, the whole nine yards. Today, they are of the older generation. Grandfathers. They still look good in their Marine uniforms.
They are also really, really angry and fighting, once again, though in a different way. They were both put into the deportation process because of those old convictions. According to a law passed in 1997, we need to deport all the criminals. So here they are. This hearing was only the latest in a series stretching back for over two years.
They are not alone. There is even an organization of banished veterans, some in this country and some already deported. There’s something wrong with this picture. Why are we doing this? And what’s up with the scheduling and postponing of hearings? Maybe we’re thinking it over. An organizer who follows this case, Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee, expressed cautious optimism about the meaning of the postponement. Maybe we don’t actually want to do this. And maybe we can stop.