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Army Vet May be Deported Because of Government Paperwork Error

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By Tom Flanigan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-907450.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – For many, the term "illegal immigrant" usually triggers a particular kind of image. But Tom Flanigan found stereotypes are not always an accurate reflection of reality. That is especially true in the case of a North Florida man who is an American in every sense of the word but one.

Greenville, Florida is a tiny town, barely more than a crossroads. It's in Madison County, about halfway between Madison and Monticello on Highway 90. It was the home of Ray Charles. Today, it's the home of Axel Runtschke, his wife and three kids. Runtschke describes himself as a typical southern kind of guy.

"I like outdoors stuff. I like NASCAR racing, hanging out with friends and family around a barbecue, and some cold beer."

It sounds pretty much like most other folks, right? Well, not exactly, because technically, Axel Runtschke is an illegal immigrant.

"A lot of folks don't understand, you know, they look at me. Most of them can't tell at all that I'm from anywhere else, and when I tell them, they either don't believe me or they say it never occurred to me."

Runtschke was born in Germany thirty-two years ago. Then he came to the United States.

"My mother and I moved here. I was twelve years old, and I wanted to go to school here in the states. So we came. We were sponsored through my stepfather, and I was able to get a permanent resident card that way. I finished middle school here; I graduated from high school in St. Petersburg."

In high school, Runtschke was in ROTC and had dreams of a military career. So right after graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. But first, he had a question for the recruiter.

"I said what becomes of my immigration status, my resident's card, what happens to that when I join the military? He said that will be taken care of for you once you're in the Army.' So, being seventeen going on eighteen, I kind of washed my hands of it. I said this is great, that's one less thing for me to worry about."

But now, years later, Runtschke has reason to worry. That's because the Army never filed the paperwork to make him a U.S. citizen.

"Somehow, I fell through the cracks and I was not taken care of as they said. So ultimately, I lost my status and I was no longer allowed to work here in this country."

Runtschke says his wife's job doesn't bring in enough to pay the bills, so the family's home is in foreclosure. Tallahassee immigration lawyer Neil Rambana is trying to help Runtschke. He says it's a shameful way for the Army and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement to treat an honored military veteran.

"To now be told, I'm sorry, but you're actually an illegal immigrant and you can be deported from the United States, and we don't care about your family. We don't care that you have a wife that's a U.S. citizen and three children that are dependent on you that are also U.S. citizens."

Runtschke says the prospect of deportation is beyond comprehension.

"My wife, my kids, they don't speak German. I don't know. I don't know, I can't even think about that."

Rambana's law and life partner Elizabeth Ricci are trying to help beyond simple legal advocacy.

"We've started a fund for him, and we are happy to make the first donation to the fund, Axel. And our hope is that during this difficult time that you and your family are facing, until this gets straightened out and it will eventually get straightened out, that you can get by. We wish you and your family luck, and we hope that nobody finds themselves in this situation because he did do all the right things."

Federal officials declined to comment on the Runtschke case, saying to do so would violate his privacy rights and that the matter is still under review.

Donations to the fund should be sent to the benefit of THE RUNTSCHKE FAMILY:

Superior Bank 1276 Metropolitan Blvd Tallahassee, FL 32312

For more information, visit http://www.rambana.com/.