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MSU professors documentary on Vietnam veterans threatened with deportation to air on PBS

The Valenzuela Brothers
Posted at 8:31 AM, Nov 11, 2021

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A film by two Michigan State University professors about Vietnam veterans threatened with deportation will air on PBS this month.

The film, "American Exile," came about when MSU professor John Valadez was doing a screening for a film in Colorado.

"These two elderly guys came up to me and they said, 'Hey, I know what your next film should be,'" he said.

Manuel and Valente Valenzuela told him they were Vietnam veterans and they were getting deported. The Valenzuela brothers both served in the Vietnam war fifty years ago. In 2009, they were served deportation letters due to past misdemeanors.

"I asked my brother what was wrong and he showed me the same removal paper that I had... and I went and got mine and put it right by his," Manuel Valenzuela said. "And he looked at it, he goes, 'You too?'"

The documentary points out that before 1996, Judges could take into consideration service to United Sates and time spent in the country, but in 1996 things changed. Offenses like shoplifting and possession of marijuana became deportable violations.

They started working on the film in 2014.

Valadez, MSU professor Carleen Hsu and MSU students followed the Valenzuela brothers around the country as the two advocated for the rights of immigrants who have served in the U.S. armed force.

"I fight so hard because it's not just the veterans it's the families later on," Valenzuela said.

Hsu and Valadez helped lead a congressional briefing on deported veterans and collaborated with Masachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's legislative staff.

On July 2, the Biden Administration answered the Valenzuela brother's prayers. Deportation of veterans was stopped and the Department of Homeland Security was required to track down those who were deported and help them and their families return to the U.S.

"We protect America. And we should not ever be thrown away from it," Valenzuela said.

If you want to watch the full journey unfold, the documentary will air nationally on PBS at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16.