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U.S. Deports Parents of Dead Soldiers

One tenth of the U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq have been immigrants. But not all of their parents have qualified for green cards.
 
 
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Three years after U.S. Army Private Armando Soriano, 20, died fighting in Haditha, Iraq, his father is facing deportation. Soriano is now buried in Houston, Tex., his hometown, where his parents, undocumented workers from Mexico, are currently living.

Before his death Soriano had promised his parents he'd help them get green cards. He only succeeded partially before losing his life. Although his mother was able to obtain a green card, his father did not qualify and is on the verge of being deported.

Enrique Soriano, Armando's father, is not the only person to have lost a son or daughter in the Iraq war and face deportation. There are more than three million people born in the U.S. with parents who came into the country illegally. Those born in the U.S. are automatically citizens and have all the rights and duties enjoyed by Americans. That includes military service with the possibility of losing one's life.

Losing a son or a daughter is always tragic. To try to compensate the families the U.S. government makes efforts to help. In the case of individuals with family members needing immigration help, officials assist them to obtain green cards. That's what happened with Soriano's mother. But in spite of governmental flexibility, certain rules prevent some people from qualifying.

Enrique Soriano had been formally deported in 1999 when he returned to Mexico for a brief visit. That makes him ineligible for any immigration benefits. Enrique Soriano is not alone.

Although exact figures are difficult to come by, many parents with sons and daughters who died in Iraq have been deported.

Official statistics show that more than 68,000 foreign-born military individuals are serving the U.S. How many of these individuals have relatives who do not have a legal right to be in the United States is not known. Figures from the National Center for Immigration Law show that one in 10 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq have been immigrants.

One estimate claims that five percent of those serving in the American military are illegal immigrants who joined with false papers. The military does not recruit illegal immigrants. Yet, given the shortages of volunteers, meeting quotas may put pressure to close some eyes. Illegal immigrants may feel that joining the military will help them and their families obtain legal papers in addition to other benefits.

Inevitably, some die in the process. The first soldier to die for the United States in the Iraq war was in fact Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

Enrique Soriano's case is also complicated by the fact that the rest of his family has a legal right to be in the U.S. His wife has a green card, three of their four kids are U.S. citizens, and another born in Mexico has applied for a green card. If Enrique is deported, the family will have to make the hard choice of going back or separating.

"I think it would be a travesty for these parents to be deported after their son died in Iraq fighting for his country," stated Congressman Gene Green, D-Houston. The congressman introduced a bill in the House, which would help Enrique Soriano obtain a green card. Nothing has happened yet.

Earlier this year President George Bush commuted the sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. In so doing, the President spared Libby two and a half years in prison for his conviction for lying to federal investigators. The President cited Libby's "exceptional public service" and prior lack of a criminal record as explanation for his action. He concluded that Libby's sentence was "excessive" and the punishment "harsh."

In light of the sacrifice made by Armando Soriano, one wonders whether deporting his father is a far more "excessive" and "harsh" punishment?

Domenico Maceri, Ph.D, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California.

 
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