Aliso Viejo's Louie Álvarez came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was four. "I grew up with John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart movies," says Álvarez, who felt so American by age 17 that he joined the Marines and, that being the 1970s, was shipped off to Vietnam.
But after having served his adopted country with honor, Álvarez now faces deportation to the birth country he hardly knows.
Like countless Vietnam War veterans who were born on American soil, Álvarez returned to the U.S. a lost soul. He fell in with shady characters in his neighborhood who did drugs, then started doing them himself. He was arrested several times for possession and went to jail for a short time.
Years later, Álvarez was popped for possession of a small quantity of marijuana sent to state prison. After doing his time, he was handed over to immigration officials for deportation.
When Álvarez was detained at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in El Centro, he applied for naturalization because soldiers currently receive an accelerated and generous process of naturalization, even if they are not residents, and especially when they have served in times of war.
Marrero reports that his case wasn't rejected, but it wasn't approved either. And Álvarez has doubts it will be granted because one condition veterans must meet is having "good moral conduct." Committing crimes, even petty drug crimes, indicates the opposite.
Álvarez was eventually released on bond after many attempts and is now engulfed in a third appeal before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He knows he's going to lose, according to Marrero.
"I'm trying to buy time," Álvarez says.
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Some are trying to help. Robyn Sword started the group Banished Veterans to draw attention to cases like Álvarez's. Sword's boyfriend, Rohan Coombs, is a Jamaican veteran who served in the first Gulf War and returned with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He also now faces deportation.
Lawmakers like Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), have expressed solidarity with and spoken out on behalf of veterans facing deportation. But few others are sympathetic in Washington, D.C., which has expanded the list of crimes one can be deported because of since the Clinton administration.
Most lawmakers, as Sword informs Marrero, "think that since they have committed crimes, they can't be defended politically."