Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | 5:25 p.m.
As the country waits for senators drafting immigration legislation to unveil a compromise bill, Las Vegas couple James and Sharon Courtney joined hundreds of immigration activists in the Capitol Wednesday to call for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“I may be undocumented, but I am an American military wife,” said Sharon, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who has been married to James, a three-time Iraq war veteran, since 2000. “And I have come to realize: I am a warrior just like my husband.”
James Courtney, who joined the Army in 1997, met Sharon, who came to the U.S. at age 15, in a Texas bar. He couldn’t speak Spanish. She couldn’t speak English. But they started a relationship — and a year later they were married.
Thirteen years later, Sharon is fluent in English and she and James are parents to three American boys: Ricardo, 16; James, 11; and Darren, 8. Sharon is also chief caretaker to her husband James, who after a 15-year military career, received a medical discharge last year due to post-traumatic stress disorder, a brain injury that affects his speech, and other injuries.
“The doctor said that his body is now like an 85-year-old man’s,” Sharon said.
Because she is undocumented, she explained, Sharon can’t easily work. She can’t earn more money to put into their home, and worries about taking care of her family. And because she is 35, she is too old to consider going back to school and become eligible for a work permit and a stay of deportation under the deferred action program instituted last year for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors.
For the Courtneys to keep their family together, it’s comprehensive immigration reform, or nothing.
“I did what my country asked me to do,” James Courtney said to the room of about 200 immigrants and their supporters gathered in a room of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday afternoon. “Now I’m asking my country to keep us together for the sake of humanity and freedom.”
James and Sharon were featured speakers at the invitation of Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, who said the Courtneys’ story presented a compelling case for immigration reform.
“It’s clear that it is not acceptable to treat families or veterans of our country this way,” Horsford said. “The broken system is tearing our families apart.”
The Courtneys were the only family featured in which one spouse was a veteran.
“This man went over seven IEDs. Seven explosions, and was able to be alive,” Sharon said of her husband. “He feels that he has a purpose, and ever since we started coming out about it, it’s making him feel that he actually has that purpose.”
James, recalling how on Iraq deployments he would worry more about protecting his family from deportation orders than his own fate in a war zone, said that honoring his family was the best way to honor his service.
“We do not have family ties to Mexico, and me and my boys, we don’t speak Spanish,” he said. “They’re not anchor babies: They’re sons of a father who fought and a mother who sacrificed during that time … Please do not crush their dreams.”