BERLIN (Reuters) - Foreign-born “Green Card” soldiers have been serving in the U.S. military since the Vietnam War, but the plight of deported veterans has not been explored on film until “Soy Nero” (I Am Nero), director Rafi Pitts said.
The program provides a path to full citizenship for people holding “Green Card” residency permits who enlist in the military.
But Pitts’s movie, which was shown on Tuesday as it competes for the Berlin film festival’s main Golden Bear prize, says that although the program works for many, some 3,000 foreign-born veterans were deported for one reason or another.
This gives rise to an almost surreal scene in the movie showing the graveside funeral for a soldier who died in service in the U.S. military being buried across the border in Mexico.
“When I came across the reality of the Green Card soldier, as a filmmaker you can’t not tell the story,” Pitts, who is of mixed Iranian-British heritage, told a post-screening news conference.
“War is hard enough on young men but to then be rejected by the country you have been fighting for is probably the worst thing that can happen to any human being,” Pitts said.
“Yet nobody talks about it – I don’t understand what people have been doing over the past 30 years – why doesn’t anybody talk about it?”
In the film Johnny Ortiz, of TV’s “American Crime”, plays Nero, a young man of Mexican heritage who grew up in southern California but was deported as an illegal immigrant.
Desperate to get back to America, which for him is home, he crosses the border illegally and takes advantage of the “Green Card” soldier program to get citizenship.
He winds up in a desert war zone in the Middle East where his small patrol manning a remote checkpoint comes under attack. Without giving away the ending, the upshot is that it looks unlikely that Ortiz’s character will become a citizen after all.
“If you fought for the United States and you lived here your whole life you deserve to be in America, no matter what the heck you say,” Ortiz said.
Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Alison Williams