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WASHINGTON -- A Venezuelan military officer who deserted his country's army to seek asylum in the United States faces deportation this week, back to the government the U.S. claims is a dictatorship that must be punished.

The juxtaposition reveals the perils that President Donald Trump's administration faces trying to balance Trump's immigration policies with pledges to stand with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing President Nicolas Maduro's government that has driven the nation into economic and humanitarian peril.

First Lt. Helegner Tijera Moreno, 39, the father of a teenage son, faces his last detention hearing on Tuesday and could be deported after spending nearly two years in a New Mexico detention center.

He arrived in September 2016 seeking asylum and was granted a hearing after telling U.S. agents that Venezuelan military intelligence considers him a traitor for speaking out against the Maduro government. According to court documents, he was threatened with jail time after the Venezuelan government charged him with "political militancy."

Tijera has been scheduled for deportation, but immigration officials are meeting Tuesday to make a final decision. It's possible he could be released and allowed to stay in the United States if the Venezuelan government refuses to take him back.

"I don't have much time left," Tijera said, speaking by phone from the immigration detention center in Otero, N.M. "I have so many emotions right now. I'm very nervous. I don't know what else I can do."

Tijera has reason to be concerned about returning.

Venezuela's security forces have arrested and jailed many army officers on suspicion of rebellion and treason.

The United States, meanwhile, continues to deport Venezuelans while pressing allies in the region to "do more" about the starvation and oppression in Venezuela. More than 100 have been deported since April, when the Trump administration was in Lima, Peru, for the Summit of the Americas and promising to do "everything in our power to support those fleeing tyranny."

Insulting the president of Venezuela is punishable by six to 30 months of imprisonment. The penalty for desertion in Venezuela is approximately five to seven years in prison. Tijera says he never supported Maduro and refused to chant revolutionary slogans.

"I'm not a criminal. I am a moral person of good principles and values," Tijera said. "My only problem is I don't share the politics of the government currently leading my country."

A Section on 08/12/2018

Print Headline: Venezuelan military deserter faces deportation from U.S.

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