Copyrighted material


by Aaron Glantz

on Casualties in the Border War

(IPS) -- The wife of a U.S. soldier missing in action in Iraq remains in legal limbo this week, even after the Department of Homeland security dropped deportation proceedings against her.

"It doesn't solve the underlying problem," the couple's attorney, Mathew Kolken, told IPS.

"The underlying problem is that she is in the United States without any type of legal status," Kolken said. "She doesn't have any work authorization, she can't travel outside of the country, and she's not a legal resident of the United States."

Army Specialist Alex Jimenez, who has been missing since his unit was attacked in Iraq on May 12, had petitioned for a green card for his wife, Yaderlin, whom he married on a U.S. military base in New York in 2004.

Unlike Specialist Jimenez, who was born in the United States, Yaderlin is an undocumented immigrant.

According to Kolken, Yaderlin illegally entered the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2001.

Kolken told IPS the couple's legal troubles began almost immediately after they married, while they were honeymooning at Niagara Falls. "On Jun. 14, 2004 she was encountered by the Canadian border near Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Canada," he said. "They instituted removal materials against her and started a process that has been going ever since."

A federal immigration judge put Yaderlin's deportation proceedings on hold while the Pentagon sent Alex Jimenez twice to Iraq. Halfway through his second tour, Alex Jimenez went missing after his unit was attacked by armed men in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

But with the possibility that Jimenez might be dead looking increasingly likely, Yaderlin's friends and family began to worry not only about the safety of her husband but also about her own deportation proceedings.

Last Wednesday, Democratic Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy spoke out on Yaderlin's behalf. The Department of Homeland Security responded by calling off deportation proceedings.

"There is no move to deport her," DHS Spokeswoman Jaime Zuieback told the Associated Press. "We, like all Americans, hope for Specialist Jimenez's safe return."

This is not the first time deportation proceedings have followed a soldier's death or disappearance in Iraq, however.

In 2003, U.S. Army soldier Zeferino Colunga died of an illness he contracted while serving in Iraq and was buried with full honors in a Texas cemetery. Four months later, with the family still in mourning, the soldier's father was deported to Mexico as an undocumented immigrant.

Meanwhile, the number of non-citizens in the military has risen. Pentagon officials estimate there are now about 35,000 non-citizens serving in the U.S. military, an increase from the 23,000 who were serving in 2000. Federal officials say an additional 32,000 have become U.S. citizens since Bush signed an executive order expediting citizenship for members of the armed services in 2002.

Altogether, it's estimated there are about 105,000 foreign-born members of the armed services, bringing issues the military has never had to deal with before.

"There needs to be an orientation," said Jess Quintero, president of Hispanic War Veterans of America, arguing that many immigrant service members are not aware their family members often do not receive the same benefits they do.

"Right after boot camp someone needs to come in and explain to the active duty warrior and say if you have an undocumented member of your family, this is what you need to do, because if they don't do it, these will be the consequences -- this woman may be deported without receiving any of his benefits," Quintero said.

The situation will likely become even more complicated if the Congress passes the immigration bill the Bush administration is asking for, although with Thursday's Senate vote to end debate, that outcome has receded even further.

The bill includes the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would for the first time allow undocumented immigrants to join the military.

"Military recruitment is well below the set goals and the DREAM Act will provide an [additional] pool of people eligible to join the U.S. Army," noted Jeanne Batalova of the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, which is based in Washington.

"The military is very interested in the act," she added.

Batalova estimates about 280,000 undocumented immigrants between 18 and 24 would qualify for the program.

Those who enlist under the provision would become eligible for a special "Z" visa granting them a probationary stay in the United States, during which they would either have to serve in the military or attend a university or community college. After that, the formerly undocumented immigrants would be eligible to apply for status as permanent, legal, non-citizen residents.

Eventually they would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, a process that often takes years. Only then would they be able to petition to sponsor family members, who like them, may be undocumented.

"The act will provide an unprecedented bargain," Batalova said, "for people to trade their undocumented status for eventual, legal permanent residency."

But Jess Quintero of Hispanic War Veterans of America thinks the process is too long and cumbersome.

"All non-citizens who join the military should become U.S. citizens right after finishing boot camp, he said. "We don't know if they go off to a war if they're coming back."

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Albion Monitor   June 29, 2007   (

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