June 1, 2006

A "Green" War Hero

Hatched by Sachi

You might have heard of Walt Gaya before; Michael Yon wrote about him in detail last year. But I think it's important to remember that not all Americans who fight for us are citizens by birth.

Meet Sgt. Walt Gaya, proud owner of the Corina Bakery, 510 6th Avenue, Tacoma, Washington (stop in and buy some cake). Gaya is an Iraq war veteran (Deuce Four), a baker -- and newly naturalized citizen of Amerca.

But he almost wasn't any of those three.

Walt is originaly from Argentina. He met his future wife Jessica (born in Oregon) in a Queens bakery where they both worked. Love -- Portland -- marriage -- two kids (the eponymous Corina is their young daughter). Then, in the year 2000, Walt enlisted in the army.

Walt survived two horrific bomb blasts in Iraq: a suicide car bomb and a roadside IED. Both times, his Stryker saved him; but he was badly wounded twice: his back was severely burned by the car bomb and he lost some of his hearing; and the IED left shrapnel in his left eye and badly damaged his ears. Nevertheless, after the IED exploded, he emerged from his destroyed Stryker with the rest of the wounded crew, ready to fight against the ambush that often followed such IED attacks.

His keen eyes as a sniper had protected his comrades, and occasionally an embedded journalist like Michael Yon. He was also instrumental in finding and helping wounded children.

And yet, Walt had a problem. Michael Yon explains:

While Walt lay in the hospital the second time, with bomb fragments in his left eye, the first thing he said to his commander LTC Erik Kurilla was that he was worried about losing the chance to become a US citizen. Although his citizenship ceremony in Baghdad was only a few days away, Walt wouldn’t make it. After this latest IED nearly blew him asunder, he’d be on a fast plane home before then. Problem was home was not officially home, and his green card had expired while he was off to war. I joked with Walt that he was lucky INS didn’t raid his place in Iraq and drag him away. (INS would have had to win a firefight against his platoon and then the entire battalion before that would happen.)

Now, just because he was scheduled to be sworn in during a citizenship ceremony, don't assume that the INS (now the USCIS, the misleadingly labeled United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) would automatically reschedule Gaya for another ceremony when he got back to the U.S. That would be the obvious and logical thing, but USCIS is neither. It is arbitrary, capricious, and at times driven more by personal interests and vendettas than by any coherent or sane set of rules.

Back home, [Gaya] was still worried; being a twice-wounded war veteran might not carry cache with bureaucrats, and he knew it.

He was right; it didn't. USCIS did not give him a new date to be sworn in.

Remember, my own application sat at that same point -- waiting to be scheduled for swearing in -- for two years; it was only by the intervention of my congressman that I finally got an appointment for the ceremony.

But you would think that a wounded Iraqi vet, who only missed his ceremony because he was lying in a hospital bed with shrapnel in his eye, would get prompt attention from the wretched USCIS. If you think that, you've been fooled into believing they actually care -- either about immigrants or even about American security. For months, nobody at USCIS did anything or took the slightest interest in the fate of Sgt. Walt Gaya, not even when AP reporter Tony Castaneda wrote a story, and Gaya's case gained massive publicity in the U.S.

Fortunately for him (and for his adopted country), his commander, LTC Erik Kurilla, who had been shot again, was sent to a hospital near the one where Gaya was staying. Thanks to Kurilla's help, the papers finally went through. Walt is now a naturalized American citizen.

Sadly, many "green card troops" face similar problems. The legal immigration system in this country is an absolute disgrace. They admit some people who should never get in, and they expel other legal immigrants simply because they get laid off; immigration often won't allow someone on a work visa to get another job, even if one is offered.

They extend citizenship to some favored immigrants after a brief period of no difficulty; but others have to wait years just to get their swearing-in ceremonies, even after satisfying all requirements.

Soldiers who miss their ceremonies because of wounds suffered in the line of duty get swallowed up by the bureaucracy, lost and forgotten by the very people whose freedom the soldiers nearly died preserving -- a freedom not extended to the soldier until his commander brings the full weight of the Army on his side.

Immigrants are rarely told what they must do, what forms they need to fill out, what they need to bring with them -- and even when they are told, the requirements change without warning or notice; they are sent away for not binging some document they were never ordered to bring.

Nobody has any idea how long the process will take, or even what has become of the immigrant's file. They cannot tell the immigrant what stage he is at or what he still needs to do. They are rude and dismissive, they don't answer questions, and they shout at immigrants like prison guards bellowing orders at convicts.

Even getting an attorney doesn't help. You need an guardian angel, like a congressman -- or the commander of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry -- to even gain the attention of the USCIS. And so far as anyone can tell, not one single word of either the House immigration bill or the Senate version fixes this fatally flawed agency.

Wouldn't it have been a shame if we had let a war hero, such as Walt Gaya, become illegal -- simply because he'd been too busy fighting for our freedom to rush home and file his immigration papers?

Hatched by Sachi on this day, June 1, 2006, at the time of 3:00 PM

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The following hissed in response by: dasbow

Colonel Kurilla keeps showing up all over the place. I remember Micheal Yon writing about him a while back. Thank God we have men like him.

The above hissed in response by: dasbow [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2006 3:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: Harold C. Hutchison

Yet another exhibit of why the "enforcement only" crowd has messed up priorities.

This is just another example of a broken system.

The above hissed in response by: Harold C. Hutchison [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2006 3:16 PM

The following hissed in response by: Smitty

I wonder if Lou Dobbs will give him a special mention on his show?


The above hissed in response by: Smitty [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2006 3:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I ran into the same kind of mindnumbing arrogant stuff when dealing with the VA for my Dad when he was sick. A sick old soldier and they could not be bothered. That was years ago and I doubt if things have changed much. It seems to be the nature of the beast.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2006 5:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


They haven't. My family is a military family from WWI to the present. My brother-in-law was a 100% service connected Vietnam era vet. It took 10 and a half months for my sister's DIC claim to be adjudicated. Her claim was the second oldest claim. My family has never been treated properly by the VA dating back to my Army Quartermaster grandfather. Outside of the Walter Reed and a few other VA hospitals, medical care is horrid. One of the best things that was done in the last decade was allowing vets to get care in any licensed civilian facility (with the concomitant closure of substandard VA ones). My sister to this day doesn't know if she has medical insurance. One set of papers say CHAMP-VA, another says Tricare-for-life. Well, Tricare (in my neck of the woods at least) is so niggardly with payment for care that no civilian physician bothers to take it. Then, to add insult to injury, she cannot get any other insurance as long as the VA is involved.

My neice is eligible for the GI Bill. Her college benefits are still mired in the bureauracracy. We do know what the award will be. What we don't know is how long it will take for her to get them.

One of the reasons why I am the activist libertarian that I am is that I know that if the government will not do right by the vets (a true governmental function), why should I expect them to do right by anyone else while making sweet sounding promises simply to buy power.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2006 10:04 PM

The following hissed in response by: Harold C. Hutchison

I've blogged about this matter a little:

I have to wonder if Lieutenant Colonel Kurilla would possibly be facing felony charges for assisting Gaya were the House bill passed.

The above hissed in response by: Harold C. Hutchison [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 2, 2006 5:53 AM

The following hissed in response by: Papa Ray

The expert on all of this is Juan Mann. Scroll down for individual articles.

You will not believe how screwed up our immigration system is, and how hard it is going to be to fix it...if the attempt to fix it is ever made.

Papa Ray

The above hissed in response by: Papa Ray [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 2, 2006 7:22 AM

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