Illegal Mexican immigrant who fought in Iraq facing deportation from US
Thu Nov 13
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A 19-year-old Mexican who used a false residence permit to enlist in the US army and fight in Iraq (news - web sites) may be kicked out of the force and even be deported, his lawyer, military and immigration officials said.
Juan Escalante, whose parents brought him here from Mexico at the age of four, enlisted in the army in 2002 after finishing high school in Seattle, his family's immigration attorney Glen Prior said. The forged green card that allowed him to do so cost him 50 dollars.
Escalante trained as a mechanic, serving in Iraq from March to September in the Third Infantry Division, said Richard Olson, a spokesman at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where the soldier is based.
The army discovered the teenager's status during a court hearing for his parents who are claiming residency under a program for illegal immigrants who have lived here for more than 10 years. The couple say their two children, aged 10 and 12, who were born here, would face problems if deported.
A judge has rejected Bernardo and Silvia Escalante's claim. And if they lose their appeal, they will be deported, said Prior, who is based in Fife, Washington.
The Mexican soldier is also facing possible deportation.
"If he came in under his parents, he potentially could be asked to leave the country as a result of that ... it's all up to the immigration judge," said Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
However, although the army appears to want to keep Escalante, it has no desire to encourage fraud and is concerned at the breach of national security the case reveals, including a potential entry point for terrorists.
"We're inclined to keep him in the army, that's what the unit wants to do," said Olson. "He's doing his job, he's doing it well, the unit wants to retain him in the army and he wants to be retained in the army.
"That's basically what we've asked for," he added.
Until now, the army has kept Escalante on active duty and provided him with a military lawyer to help him seek citizenship.
Asked if he could be discharged, army spokesman Joe Burlas replied, "absolutely".
"We allow legal aliens to enlist in the army," Burlas notes. "We have about 10,750 as of the end of July. But they must be legal immigrants.
"Any time that there is a frauded enlisting and we find out that to be the case, the chain of command is required to initiate a fraud enlistment discharge" proceeding, he explained.
Meanwhile, Prior suggests that Escalante may benefit from an executive order signed in July by US President George W. Bush (news - web sites), to accelerate citizenship for foreigners enlisted in the armed forces, instead of having them serve the mandatory basic five-year residency requirement.
The order addresses the case of foreigners in general but does not mention illegal residency issues. And no one is allowed into the armed forces without a green card.
"If the military decides to discharge him dishonorably for entering the military through a fraudulent card, and if he's discharged dishonorably, he's not eligible for citizenship, but so far the military has not decided that," Prior added.
"I'm optimistic for Juan," he said, noting that the parents' case is still in doubt.
The Escalantes are far from being alone in their residency case.
Jose Gutierrez, 22, who died in Iraq in March, was an illegal Guatemalan immigrant, as the Pentagon (news - web sites) found out after he was killed, Burlas noted.
He suggested that similar cases may yet emerge.
Around 37,000 foreigners are enlisted in the US forces, 10,750 in the army, in possession of a green card, according to the Pentagon, some 10,000 of them Latin American in origin.