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Iraq Veteran Faces Deportation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 31 May 2012 04:34

Mother Asks Authorities Not To Send Son To Mexico;
Man Thought He Became A Citizen By Joining Army

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

Martha Santos Gutierrez shows photos of her son, Erick Vidal, an Iraq veteran facing deportation.

On Memorial Day, when the United States remembers those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their life for this country, a mother stood outside the immigration detention center in downtown Los Angeles asking that same country to give a second chance to an Iraq War veteran who faces deportation.

"I'm very proud of my son. I think this is an injustice. He gave his life for the United States," said Martha Santos Gutierrez, mother of Erick Vidal.

Vidal, 25, who served two tours in Iraq, where he earned a Purple Heart and was left without hearing in his right ear after a bomb explosion, was arrested in Oxnard last year after being accused of kidnapping his pregnant girlfriend.

According to his mother, Vidal went to pick up the young woman at the mall where she worked. The couple got into an argument and he refused to let her leave the car for only about five minutes, Santos Gutierrez said.

"He ended up leaving her in front of a bookstore and then he went home," the mother said.

However, when the girlfriend recounted the tale to a coworker, the friend reported the incident to authorities, claiming Vidal had prevented the girlfriend from exiting the vehicle.

In a signed declaration, Vidal's girlfriend, Veronica Murillo, denied the accusations.

"Erick and I had a minor domestic altercation which was blown out of proportion," the statement said. "I didn't believe Erick would intend to harm me or our daughter, we just had a heated discussion in the car and that led to an argument."

Vidal served a year in prison after pleading guilty to the charge, apparently because the public defender assigned to his case told him he would be freed earlier. The crime now makes him deportable, as he is only a permanent resident.

His mother said Vidal never tried to become a U.S. citizen because he thought he would automatically become one upon joining the U.S. Army.

No Automatic U.S. Citizenship

No member of the military gets an automatic U.S. citizenship, although they become eligible for it much sooner than a non-military member.

Normally, someone wishing to become a United States citizen must have five years of legal permanent residency in the U.S. to apply. Non-citizens married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years can apply after three years of residency.

In 2003, former president George W. Bush signed an executive order stating that U.S. military service members only need to serve one day of active duty time before they can file for citizenship. But they still have to file a naturalization application and follow the steps required of any person wishing to become a U.S. citizen, a process that usually takes between six and nine months.

Vidal is currently incarcerated at an immigration center in Orange County, where the only thing preventing him from being expelled to Mexico is his signature on a voluntary deportation order. His mother said Vidal has filed an appeal to the case and is awaiting a response from immigration authorities.

"He was discharged with Honors from the Army. It's not fair that they deport him for a little fault," said his mother.

Willie Dillon, Vidal's wrestling coach at Pacific High School in Oxnard, described the young man as an example to others.

"He did a very good job overseas. I'm hoping that instead of deporting him back to Mexico, he gets the help that he needs," Dillon said.

Santos Gutierrez said her son doesn't want to go back to Mexico, the country where he was born but hasn't lived in since the age of seven.

"His only family in Mexico are his grandparents, but he doesn't really know them and that [Mexico] is another world for him," the mother said.

"They want to kick him out after my son put his life in risk for this country."

Government Has "Turned It's Back"

Gloria Saucedo, of pro-immigrant group Hermandad Mexicana of Panorama City, said the government has turned its back on a man who served it well.

"How is it possible that recruiters begin recruiting kids in school at 17, but now they don't want to help him," Saucedo said. "We're not saying his offenses should be forgiven. He already served a year in jail. But what is he going to do in Mexico?"

Vidal's mother said her pleas for Army officials to help her son have been to no avail.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials released a statement saying, "Any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an alien with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel.

"ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion for members of the armed forces who have honorably served our country on a case-by-case basis when appropriate. ICE Director John Morton's June 2011 memo on prosecutorial discretion specifically identifies service in the U.S. military as a positive factor that should be considered when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised."

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Last Updated on Thursday, 31 May 2012 06:53