A while back I asked the rhetorical question: how many honorably-discharged veterans would be arrested under the new Alabama Anti-Immigration Legislation. A recent court case evidences the existence of veterans that will be arrested if found in Alabama after September 1. According to the findings of this Immigration Court,

In 1966, [Vernon] Lawson returned to the United States [from the Vietnam War], and was honorably discharged from the Marines a year later, with numerous medals and commendations, including the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, and the Navy Commendation Medal.

Lawson was an undocumented immigrant having been brought into the country at age 14. His problem: resulting from PTSD and lingering addiction to alcohol and drugs following Vietnam, he was convicted of felony manslaughter in 1985 from a fight.  Twenty years after that conviction, in 2004, Immigration services (ICE) initiated deportation proceedings against him. Only today, did a federal judge approve his application for citizenship. Lawson expressed his frustration:

“When I was told I would be deported, I felt ashamed,” Lawson said in the interview. “I didn’t know this country would just turn on me like that because I got into trouble. Then all of a sudden, I’m not wanted anymore.”

The federal judge expressed it more precisely:

“Indeed, the Government’s continuing efforts to deport Lawson — who is now sixty-five years of age — from the country where he has lived for some fifty-one years, and its continuing efforts to deny this highly decorated Vietnam War veteran citizenship in the country for which he so valiantly fought, are mean-spirited at worst and puzzling at best,” Chin wrote.

Before today, if Lawson had been caught in Alabama, he would have been arrested without the privilege of bond, and criminally prosecuted (even while his application for naturalization was under appeal.) An apartment complex would be required to evict him from his residence or face felony charges themselves. No one could give him a ride if they knew of his legal proceedings. And he could not obtain work or even apply for work for fear of criminal prosecution.

How many other Vernon Lawsons are in Alabama or will travel through Alabama? As of 2009,  Vietnam Veterans Against the War estimated that 3,000 veterans faced actual deportation nationwide.  How many live in the US but no proceedings have been initiated yet? Immigration attorney  Heather Boxeth of San Diego, Calif., who has represented or advised immigrant veterans in similar straits,” estimates up to 4,000 veterans who served as long ago as World War II are now in immigration detention or have been deported, but acknowledge that there are no hard numbers.”

Up to 8,000 non-citizens enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces every year and serve alongside American troops. As of May 2010, there were 16,966 non-citizens on active duty. The military does not allow illegal immigrants to enlist.

If non-citizens die while serving, they are given citizenship and a military funeral. If they live and get in trouble with the law [and thereby lose their legal status], . . ., they can get caught in the net of a 1996 immigration law that greatly expanded the list of crimes for which non-citizens can be deported.

Unlike the federal laws which allow military service to be considered by immigration judges, Alabama’s legislation provides no discretion with prosecutors or judges but mandates arrest and conviction. Sen. Beason and Rep. Hammon know best.

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