[Marxism] Wife of GI serving in Iraq faces deportation as "illegal"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 28 07:08:32 MDT 2007

NY Times, August 28, 2007
He’s in Iraq. U.S. Reward: Deport Wife?

While Alexander Gomez was in Iraq at the United States government’s 
bidding, that same government was trying to kick his wife out of this 
country. For the Colombian-born Mr. Gomez, more accurately Specialist 
Gomez of the New York Army National Guard, something was definitely out 
of kilter.

Not that he could do much about it, not from the military base near 
Nasiriya, in southern Iraq, where he was a mechanic in an Army 
maintenance company. “I had to stay focused on what I was doing there,” 
he said.

As things go in this war, Nasiriya was hardly the most dangerous place, 
said Specialist Gomez, who returned from Iraq last year after 14 months 
and now lives with his wife, Marly Sampedro, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. 
Still, “It wasn’t summer camp,” he said. “We were in a hostile 
environment. The most important thing was to stay focused. If you lose 
focus, you’re going to go home in a bag.”

In the end, everything worked out fine for him and Ms. Sampedro, who is 
also from Colombia. But their story offers insight into some of the 
problems that are peculiar to immigrants serving in the wartime United 
States military.

There are thousands of foreign-born men and women like Specialist Gomez, 
who remains on active duty with the 145th Maintenance Company, based on 
Staten Island. According to the Defense Department, about 21,100 legal 
immigrants who are noncitizens are serving in the United States armed 
forces. Each year, several thousand of them become citizens, taking 
advantage of a speeded-up naturalization process offered to those who 
put their lives on the line for their adoptive country.

That’s what Specialist Gomez, 33, did. He had a green card and was not a 
citizen when he joined the Guard in 2003. Nor when he met Ms. Sampedro 
in 2002. Nor when he married her in 2004, around the time that their 
son, Alexander Jr., was born. Nor when he headed off to Iraq in November 

Thanks to the expedited process for service members, he got his 
citizenship in April 2005. That did not do Ms. Sampedro any good, 
though. The circumstances are somewhat complicated, but they boil down 
to this:

Ms. Sampedro, who is 37 and struggles with English, had come to this 
country from Cali, Colombia, in 2001, with a son from a previous 
relationship, Milton, now 14. She applied for asylum. The request was 
ultimately denied, but when she first arrived, it was good enough for a 
hearing officer to let her in temporarily.

That made her an “arriving alien,” in the jargon of the immigration 
world. When she applied for permanent residence — a green card — the 
authorities told her in 2005: No way. Arriving aliens, they said, may 
not seek an adjustment of their immigration status. That she was married 
to someone who by then was a United States citizen made no difference.

Not only that, but the authorities wanted to deport Ms. Sampedro and 
Milton right away. They said she had lied to them by claiming American 
citizenship for herself. In fact, she had made no such claim. The charge 
was a mistake, as the government later acknowledged.

Nonetheless, there she was in the spring of 2005, with deportation 
staring her in the face, with a husband in Iraq and with no idea what to 
do about their baby: take him with her to troubled Cali or find foster 
care in New York?

Desperate, she turned to the New York Association for New Americans, an 
immigrant services agency. An agency lawyer, Michael Lehach, took up her 

To cut to the chase (and through a thicket of legalese), he blocked a 
deportation order and then got the government to back down altogether. 
Ms. Sampedro and Milton not only got to stay, but they also recently got 
green cards of their own. End of story.

But there is a larger point. For Mr. Lehach, it is that “Marly and 
Milton are not the only family members of United States servicemen who 
find themselves in jeopardy with Immigration.” There may be hundreds of 
people, if not thousands, with similar troubles, he said.

To him, “it’s unacceptable that a bona fide spouse and child could be 
removed while he’s serving his country. They should get the maximum 
amount of favorable discretion that the government can give.”

As for Specialist Gomez, he fully expects to be sent at some point back 
to Iraq or perhaps to Afghanistan. Does he bear any resentment over how 
his family was treated? Not at all.

“It’s the law, and we all have to obey the laws,” he said. “I always 
believe in this country and its laws.”

E-mail:haberman at nytimes.com

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