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Frank Cabadiana is a short, pit bull of a man who, as a 41-year-old National Guard sergeant, used to awe the younger soldiers in his unit by doing 20 one-handed pushups with each hand while delivering a lecture on the virtues of keeping fit.
But he has lost a lot of physical luster since he was mobilized to Iraq with the 124th Infantry Regiment in February 2003. There's the continuously unnerving ringing in his ears now and the grinding headaches -- the result of a homemade bomb exploding a few feet from his right ear. And then there are the lingering effects of an April heart attack, a powerful mule kick to the chest that flattened him in a hospital bed, leaving him weak and depressed. "I can't even do five pushups anymore," he says.
Nowadays, he rattles around a little duplex in Hollywood, in a tidy neighborhood west of State Road 7, like a caged tiger. No, it's not the physical disability that has him down, he says, but the sudden absence of his sprightly, 34-year-old wife, Patricia, and his 10-year-old stepson, Adrian, who tended to him after his return from the tough neighborhoods of Ramadi.
In July, immigration officials took Patricia, an undocumented native of Ecuador, into custody because of an outstanding deportation order, and Adrian was shipped off to relatives in New York. "My nuclear family is gone," Cabadiana says with palpable despair. "My dream of making a home with my family, kissing my wife, taking my son to school -- everything I fought for -- it vanished."
Cabadiana is driven to distraction by thoughts of his wife, whom he describes as "my companion, my nurse, my friend." Patricia Cabadiana is now incommunicado in the Monmouth County Detention Facility in Freehold, New Jersey. "Another inmate who was released told me, 'Frank, you've got to get her out of there,'" he recounts. "She says Patricia has lost more than 30 pounds and that she had a miscarriage." The other inmate told him that Patricia has been bullied by fellow inmates and that she often sleeps on the floor without a mattress.
"She has a lot of heart, a lot of faith," Cabadiana says. "She's reading the Bible."
Cabadiana, a 23-year veteran of the Army and the National Guard, could be the poster child for the gung-ho Bush administration military. He speaks of his experience in Iraq in terms of a crusade to free poor Iraqis, and he talks without embarrassment of his love for his country and his flag. If he could get those once-impressive physical powers back, he says, he'd willingly go back to active duty in Iraq. "They need us there," he says."I believe we gotta free these people."
But his sudden collision with "the system" has left him shaken. "Everything's in the hands of others -- judges, congressmen," he says, brooding over a sheaf of documents from Patricia's case as a television set gives a droning report of the most recent suicide bombing in Iraq.
The problem is that the Cabadianas are caught at the intersection of a wartime military, with all the urgent demands on its personnel, and a newly Draconian immigration system, which has zero tolerance for deviations from the rules. The demands of each -- particularly when it comes to balancing military assignments with stateside office appointments -- are often contradictory. "There are tons of cases like this," says Margaret Stock, who teaches immigration law at West Point, referring to the Cabadianas' case. "It goes on all the time."
The kinds of immigration law exceptions that might allow Patricia Cabadiana to stay in this country are, in the current atmosphere of terrorism and paranoia, as rare as pearls in pig slop. "It's no to everything now," Stock says. "We live in a culture of 'no,' because of the perception out there that the government has been soft on immigrants."
If you're a noncitizen who has joined the Army or Marines, the citizenship process has become easier. There are about 37,000 noncitizens in the military, with more than 3,000 "green-card soldiers" having served already in Iraq. President Bush has streamlined the system to make them full-fledged Americans -- though many still find their applications delayed because of their inability to meet appointment schedules. But the undocumented relatives of soldiers involved in the war have no special recourse. "There's no statute that says the spouse of a military person is protected from deportation," Stock says.
Patricia Cabadiana's plight is made worse by the fact that she has a criminal record. As a teenager in Southern California, she was arrested for shoplifting -- placing her automatically in a special hell reserved by the immigration code for those convicted of crimes. "I don't understand," Cabadiana says, who contends that the theft was a teenage prank. "Why is she treated like our worst criminals?"
That's thanks to a 1996 law that categorizes even minor crimes committed by nonresidents as justification for denying status change, says South Florida immigration lawyer Ira Kurzban, who teaches at Nova Southeastern University. The Cabadianas' only remedy, he adds, is either to win an exception from immigration authorities, which is rare, or to persuade the U.S. Congress to pass a "private bill" authorizing a status adjustment for Patricia Cabadiana, which is rarer still. "You don't hear about those kinds of cases very often," Kurzban says. "It means you have to get a majority of the members of both houses of Congress."