An Immigrant Soldier's Story

Angela Joseph (pictured below) was among the many speakers at Saturday's anti-war march who made connections between the war in Iraq, the misplaced war on terror, and the crackdown on immigrants at home.

But for Joseph, those connections hit all too close to home. For the past three years, she has been fighting to stop the deportation of her 40-year-old brother, Warren Joseph, a decorated Gulf War vet and father of four from Trinidad.

Like many immigrants, Angela says, Warren joined the army to escape poverty--in his case, the drug-infested streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn (Editor's note: This has been corrected from "Bronxville, New York." See author's comment at end). He served for eight years and earned numerous achievement medals, and was commended for leading his fellow infantryman to safety while battling Iraqi soldiers in Saudi Arabia.

But Joseph says her brother came home from the war with a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, and quickly spiraled into abusing alcohol and drugs. "He couldn't sleep at night because he heard guns firing in his head," she recalls. "His life was unraveling." And to support his habit, he turned to crime.

Warren was convicted on gun possession charges in 2001 and served two years probation. But in 2003, he failed a drug test and was sent to jail for six months for violating his probation.

On the day he finished his sentence, immigration officials arrived to detain him. He has spent the last two and a half years locked up in the Hudson County Correctional Center in New Jersey as the Joseph family and their attorney fight to keep him from being deported back to Trinidad—an act that would separate him from his wife and three American-born children. (Another American-born daughter was already sent to live with her grandmother in Trinidad because his wife can't afford to raise all four kids by herself, Angela says.)

Angela fears her brother could face further targeting in Trinidad as a convicted criminal.

"I know what he did was wrong--we all know that," she says. "But why deport him now, as a veteran, when he has already served his country, and when he has already served his time? Why make him pay twice?"

Under current laws, her brother cannot ask an immigration judge for a pardon, even in light of his military service. The proposed new immigration laws stand to further close off his options. It's not just HR 4437, the House bill everyone's protesting about. The "compromise" legislation proposed by Senators Chuck Hagel and Mel Martinez would also expand the grounds for deportation of those convicted of crimes.

The Senate meaure would still allow immigration officials to use domestic military bases as detention facilities, and legalize the practice of holding people indefinitely.

Joseph knows there are those who will say her brother deserves no second or third chances. But what of the other foreign-born soldiers now coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan? Many may return home with troubled minds or substance abuse issues. What happens when they run into problems?

According to one army study, a third of soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq sought mental health care, and 19 percent were diagnosed with a mental disorder like post traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety within a year of coming home.

Joseph says her brother never got the counseling and drug treatment he needed. He was just "discarded."

"I am standing here with the anti-war movement because I am also fighting a war—the war on immigrants," Angela wrote in a statement for the media crews gathered on Saturday. "In this war, the casualties are Black and Brown families, American children whose parents are deported, women who have been turned into single mothers by the U.S. government, and veterans like my brother."


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