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Plight of U.S. Veterans Facing Deportation Explored in New Documentary from WKAR

Portrait of the Valenzuela brothers
Courtesy
/
the Valenzuela brothers
Manuel (left) and Valente Valenzuela

‘American Exile’ premieres Tue., Nov. 16, nationwide on PBS.

Free preview screening, with filmmaker Q&A, to be presented at WKAR and virtually on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

EAST LANSING, MI; Oct. 26, 2021 -- A groundbreaking documentary on the deportation of U.S. veterans from WKAR Public Media at Michigan State University and filmmakers John J. Valadez and Carleen L. Hsu will air nationally on PBS in primetime on Tue., Nov. 16, 2021. Filmed over seven years, American Exile is the story of two unlikely war hero brothers who became veteran’s rights activists after being threatened with deportation and learning that thousands of veterans are being rounded up and deported.

American Exile premieres as part of Latino Public Broadcasting’s VOCES series on Tue., Nov. 16, 2021, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, WKAR, pbs.org and the PBS Video app as part of PBS’s commemoration of Veteran’s Day.

American Exile was produced by MSU professors of practice John J. Valadez and Carleen L. Hsu and is presented by WKAR Public Media at MSU. The national primetime broadcast on PBS has an estimated potential audience of seven million people.

"It's a remarkable achievement that American Exile was produced by MSU faculty and students, and will air in communities across the country," said Susi Elkins, WKAR director of broadcasting and general manager. "This film tells an important story of courage and resilience, and WKAR is proud to present this work, ensuring these stories are told across the PBS network.”

Fifty years ago, Valente and Manuel Valenzuela both volunteered and fought in Vietnam. They returned home decorated and disabled. Now approaching their 70s, they decide to don their uniforms for one last fight to bring deported veterans and their families back home. It’s a mission that will leave one brother exiled in a foreign land while the other will go all the way to the White House. Their fight would eventually help change national policy and the lives of veterans and their families across the nation.

WKAR and MSU School of Journalism, Film Studies Program, Chicano/Latino Studies Program, and community partners invite the public to join the conversation at a special preview screening of the film on Veterans Day, Thu., Nov. 11, at 7:00 p.m. ET, ahead of the national broadcast on PBS.

Elkins will host the in-person event, which includes comments from MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., presentation of the full hourlong film, and panel discussion with Vietnam combat veteran Manuel Valenzuela and Gold Star mother Olivia Segura, both of whom appear in the film. Joining them will be filmmakers Valadez and Hsu. The discussion will be moderated by Prabu David, dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at MSU.

The in-person event will be held in the WKAR studios on the MSU campus and will also be streamed live. Free registration is required for limited in-person seating. For more information and to RSVP, visit American Exile | Film Preview at WKAR.

Valadez and Hsu are professors of practice at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism and Film Studies. Valadez is a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker who has directed a dozen nationally broadcast documentary films for PBS and CNN. Hsu has produced and co-produced long-form non-fiction films for HBO, PBS, Learning Channel, BBC, CBS and Channel 4 UK.

As Hsu and Valadez worked on American Exile, they helped lead a congressional briefing on deported veterans and spoke with lawmakers and staff about the impact deportation is having on military veterans and their families.

“Our hope was that the research from the making of the film would help inform elected officials so American families and communities devastated by deportation might be made whole again,” said Valadez.

On Jul. 2, 2021, the Biden administration halted veteran deportations and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to track down those who have been deported and to create a process for deported veterans and their families to return home to the US as part of an effort to provide a pathway to citizenship.

“This film that has shaped national policy and even more importantly has saved lives,” said Hsu. "Together [as a college campus], we’ve played a pivotal role in bringing thoughtful, fact-based journalism to the national public discourse and have improved the lives of veterans and their families across the nation,” said Hsu.

More About the Film

For Valente, who has crippling PTSD, the anxiety of being under the constant threat of deportation is destroying his life. Manuel, however, is determined not to give up without a fight. A grandfather and teacher of Tae Kwon Do, he embarks on a cross-country road trip from his home in Colorado to Washington, DC, to ask President Trump for an executive order ending the deportation of military veterans and their families. Along the way, he meets other veterans impacted by deportation; people like Zahid Chaudhry, a Pakistani immigrant whose military injuries left him wheelchair-bound and in chronic pain, and Olivia Segura, whose daughter was killed in the Gulf War. Her husband —a Gold Star father — developed a drinking problem after the devastating loss of his daughter, was pulled over by the police and has been incarcerated for three years awaiting deportation.

Valente and Manuel didn’t know it at the time, but their problems were set into motion almost 30 years ago. The 1980s and early 1990s saw the largest wave of immigration in the nation’s history. Twenty-two million people, both with and without documentation, came into the country, mostly from Mexico and Latin America.

President Clinton responded in 1996 by signing the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act. But the new law had unexpected consequences for veterans. With some 50,000 foreign nationals serving in the U.S. armed forces at any given time, and with over half a million foreign-born veterans living in the United States, many of them found themselves suddenly vulnerable to deportation.

The new law took away judicial discretion and banned judges from considering factors like service to country, family, medals of honor, disability due to military service, and longevity in the country. The law also made minor offenses like shoplifting, driving with an expired license, or possession of marijuana deportable violations. Some veterans, like the Valenzuela brothers, had minor run-ins with the law decades ago, some committed serious offenses and served jail time, others were simply the victims of bureaucratic errors, but all became deportable. According to immigration scholars, before the 1996 law went into effect, there had never been an American military veteran deported. Today exiled veterans probably number in the tens of thousands, but because no government agency tracks deported veterans, the exact number is unknown.

But the voices of veterans facing deportation has finally been heard. On July 2, 2021, President Biden ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to immediately create a process for deported veterans and their families to return home to the United States.

American Exile is produced by John J. Valadez and Carleen Hsu, directed by John J. Valadez and edited by Carleen Hsu. American Exile is a co-production of Burning Box Studio and WKAR Public Media at Michigan State University in association with Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) with funding provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Michigan State University, WKAR, the New York State Council for the Arts, ITVS and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. Major funding for VOCES is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). American Exile is presented by PBS SoCal and WKAR Public Media at Michigan State University.

American Exile will be available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About the Filmmakers

John J. Valadez (Writer/Director/Producer) is a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker who has directed a dozen nationally broadcast films for PBS and CNN over the past 25 years. His work explores themes of race and power, particularly regarding Latinx Americans. They tackle such diverse subjects as the false imprisonment of a leader of the Black Panther Party (Passin’ It On, POV/PBS), Latino gangs in Chicago (Making Peace, ITVS/PBS), Latinos in World War II (Latino Americans, WETA/PBS), the birth of Latino civil rights (The Longoria Affair, INDEPENDENT LENS/PBS), the evolution of Chicano music (Latin Music USA, WGBH/PBS), genocide, art and Native Americans in the southwest (The Last Conquistador, POV/PBS), the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s (Latino Americans, WETA/PBS), segregation in a small southern town (Matters of Race, PBS/ITVS), and the lynching of Mexican Americans (The Head of Joaquin Murrieta, PBS). His films have garnered top prizes at festivals from San Francisco to Chicago to Mumbai and have been broadcast across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He has a BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. John is the Director of the Documentary Film Program (the DOC LAB) at Michigan State University.

Carleen L. Hsu (Producer, Editor) has produced and co-produced long-form non-fiction films for HBO, PBS, the Learning Channel, BBC, CBC, and Channel 4 UK, with subjects ranging from the obesity epidemic in America to gender identity in Thailand to faith healing in Africa. The documentaries have been recognized for their exceptional storytelling and original content with two George Foster Peabody Awards, a Royal Television Society Award, a Grierson Award, a Foreign Press Association Award for Best Documentary, and a nomination for a national News and Documentary Emmy. Themes of health, science, and the environment permeate much of her work. She has received grants from the MacArthur Foundation, ITVS, the New York State Council for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Latino Public Broadcasting, the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and Michigan State University. Currently, she is a Professor of Practice in the School of Journalism and the Film Studies Program at Michigan State University. Carleen is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

About WKAR Public Media

WKAR Public Media is the Michigan capital region source for award-winning original television and radio, and the best from PBS and NPR. WKAR is part of Michigan State University College of Communication Arts & Sciences and includes WKAR TV, WKAR Radio, wkar.org, WKAR Radio Reading Service, WKAR Family, and WKAR Ready to Learn.

About VOCES

Produced by Latino Public Broadcasting, the acclaimed PBS documentary series VOCES features the best of Latino arts, culture and history and shines a light on current issues that impact Latino Americans. Devoted to exploring the rich diversity of the Latino experience, VOCES presents new and established filmmakers and brings their powerful and illuminating stories to a national audience — on TV, online and on the PBS app. VOCES is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Luis Ortiz is series producer; Sandie Viquez Pedlow is executive producer. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Latino Public Broadcasting

Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) is the leader in the development, production, acquisition and distribution of film and digital cultural media that is representative of Latino people or addresses issues of particular interest to Latino Americans. These programs are produced for dissemination to public broadcasting stations and other public media entities. Providing a voice for the diverse Latino community throughout the United States, Latino Public Broadcasting is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. LPB also produces the acclaimed PBS documentary series VOCES, exploring the rich diversity of the Latino experience. VOCES presents new and established filmmakers and brings their powerful and illuminating stories to a national audience — on TV, online and on the PBS app.

Between 2009 and 2020, LPB programs won over 130 awards, including three prestigious George Foster Peabody Awards as well as Emmys, Imagen Awards and the Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Director, Documentary. LPB has been the recipient of the Norman Lear Legacy Award and the NCLR Alma Award for Special Achievement – Year in Documentaries. Sandie Viquez Pedlow is executive director of LPB; Edward James Olmos is co-founder and chairman.

Related Content
  • Thu. Nov. 11 • 7 p.m. ET at WKAR Studios and streaming | Come together on Veterans Day 2021 for a special preview screening of American Exile. The new film follows the story of veterans facing deportation 50 years after fighting for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. The evening includes a Q&A session featuring guests from the film and filmmakers John J. Valadez and Carleen L. Hsu.
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