This is a story of two very different veterans, both of whom have something to contribute to the discussion about who gets in, and who stays in, the US. Both served in combat. Both served in Iraq. One is a USMC Reservist who has twice in eight years of service been called to active duty for "surges." The other is a 21-year career Army soldier.
Let's start with the latter – Republican Representative Steve Russell of Oklahoma's Fifth Congressional District. Our friend Vivian B, according to her Care2 profile, lives in this District, and is to be congratulated for having a Representative who, though far from perfect, as we shall see, has demonstrated some ability to think rationally and even compassionately.
Last Wednesday, on the floor of the House, Rep. Russell gave a passionate floor speeech decrying xenophobia, for all the right reasons. I cannot do better than to re-quote parts of that speech to give you the flavor of it.
"“While I have tried to focus my comments on actions that we should take to eliminate ISIS, one action we should not take is to become like them. America is a lamp that lights the horizon of civilized and free mankind,” he said on the House floor.
"“The Statue of Liberty cannot have a stiff arm. Her arm must continue to keep the torch burning brightly,” Russell continued. “If we use our passions, anger, and fear to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins. We have played into their hands, period.”
He then presented quotes from Congress on a similar bill to the SAFE Act:
I want you to listen carefully to these statements by Members of Congress in response to a refugee bill–not an illegal immigration bill or permanent residents, but refugees, a refugee bill. Listen to these comments by Members of Congress about people fleeing for their lives.
Fighting immigration is ‘the best vote-getting argument . . . The politician can beat his breast and proclaim his loyalty to America.’
‘He can tell the unemployed man that he is out of work because some alien has a job.’
'Congress must ‘protect the youth of America from this foreign invasion.’
‘American children have first claim to America’s charity.’
He then revealed that all these quotes were from 1939. "While it was true that Germany was, indeed, a threat, the refugees were not. They were 20,000 children."
With regard to American principles:
We must not become them. They win if we give up who we are, and even more so, without a fight.
We guard our way of life by vigilance. We must be watchful. We have to have each others’ back and be alert to dangers around us. We must speak up when we see something unusual. By maintaining who we are amidst the threat, amidst the hatred, amidst the trials, we win.
I particularly liked his remark – bold indeed, I think – about "the critic sitting on the couch in his underwear eating his bag of cheese puffs … pecking out hatred and vitriol on some social media."
You can read the whole speech. It is marred by Obama-baiting and mis-attribution of the causes of Daesh's gains. It is even more marred by the fact that after all this, he voted with his party anyway. But there is some good stuff.
The second veteran, Ivano Rodriguez, was brought to the United States, specifically to Virginia, from Ecuador when he was a very young child. He is not undocumented: he has a green card.
Upon graduating from high school, he signed up with the USMCR. He served in Iraq. He also served in Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan, "his platoon was deployed to a Taliban-heavy village near the Pakistan border, where three of Rodriguez’s buddies were killed, and three others seriously wounded, in a suicide bombing. Several others, including Rodriguez, were casualties of a different kind: While sound of wind and limb, they suffered serious and lasting psychological trauma of the kind that fuels the horrifying suicide rate among combat veterans."
The VA prescribes (pushes) antidepressants, dream suppressors, pain pills for PTSD symptoms. These have side effects. Large numbers of veterans commit suicide as a result of these side effects. Unreliable reporting of who is and is not a veteran make it nearly impossible to determine exactly how many, but enough not to be dismissed.
While attending the Art Institute of Washington (that's State, not DC), he learned of medical marijuana for PTSD. Medical marijuana is of course legal there, and his use of it is by prescription (even though the VA will not cover it). The problem is, as a green card holder, he is still considered to be under the jurisdiction of Virginia, and it's not legal there. And, under a 1996 law (ADEPTA) which was a reaction in part to the Oklahoma City bonbing in 1995, foreigh nationals, even with green cards, can be deported for "aggravated felonies" or crimes of "moral turpitude." And both of those terms are vague enough that they can almost be anything the feds want them to be.
Mr Rodriguez didn't join the military as a means to citizenship, as many others have, though that seems to me a little like, as Mitch D implied in his "On The Edge" comment for 11/19, undergoing a near death experience and major surgeries as a means to meeting cute babes. But I digress. Mr. Rodriguez joined the military because he was young and wanted adventure. But having served myself, not even in combat, my feeling is than any non citizen who serves in the US military is automatically entitled to citizenship, and we should by God give it to him.
His applications for naturalization have, however, been repeatedly rebuffed on the grounds of "bad moral character." Oddly, the feds have previously cited only his juvenile offense record – which was certainly not a bar to him serving in the Marines. And the Marine Corps is fairly picky.
His most recent brush with immigration autorities was in 2014 when he was returning from a trip to visit family in Ecuador. A Customs official flagged him for misdemeanors for possessing marijuana and "drug paraphernalia" and initiated deportation proceedings on the grounds that any narcotics offense involved "moral turpitude." (Funny, I always thought "moral turpitude" meant a pedophile at least.) Apparently someone in the process had some intelligence, because at his hearing the presiding judge dismissed the complaint "without prejudice." (The article I cite says "with prejudice," but the I listened to the linked radio interview, and what I heard was "without.")
Having survived this hearing, however, does not mean he is safe. While he remains a non-citizen, Rodriguez lives with the possibility that the government he served may seek again to banish him as punishment for using an effective but unauthorized treatment to address the lasting trauma he experiences as a result of that service. Because of the federal government’s irrational commitment to pot prohibition, Ivano Rodriguez could still be forced to choose between death and exile.
This might be a good time and place for me to mention a petition sponsored by VoteVets in support of refugees. It too has a very personal story attached (kleenex alert).