War veteran battles his own government, as the U.S. tries to deport his new husband

A social media campaign is being conducted in support of Army Chaplain Tim Brown, who is fighting the deportation of his husband back to Honduras.
A social media campaign is being conducted in support of Army Chaplain Tim Brown, who is fighting the deportation of his husband back to Honduras.

A Fort Bragg Army chaplain who served in Afghanistan has been put in the awkward position of fighting the government he serves in an effort to save his marriage of 17 months.

The fact that it’s a same-sex marriage is not the issue. What’s getting national attention is news that Army Officer Tim Brown’s husband was arrested May 10 in Charlotte as a priority candidate for deportation.

Theirs is an increasingly complicated case that has pitted Brown against the nation’s besieged federal immigration system, with his husband, Sergio Avila-Rodriguez, caught in the middle.

Brown, who lives 44 miles south of Raleigh in Sanford, told TV station WNCN that the matter has been “like a gut punch.”

"I've served 10 years, I've served in two deployments, been to Afghanistan twice. I've done my work," Brown told Newsweek. "But more than anything, I'm just frustrated we have a system that's so broken."

Among the organizations supporting Brown's fight is the Human Right's Campaign, which sent out a tweet this week suggesting that Avila-Rodriguez should not have been arrested.

Brown told TV station WRAL he long believed his husband was safe from deportation as a military spouse. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says there’s no such thing as a “military marriage waiver” for people illegally in the country.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox says the agency “respects the service and sacrifice of those in the military and the families who support them,” but a court order for the deportation of Avila-Rodriguez has been outstanding since 2002 when he missed a court appearance. On top of that, Avila-Rodriguez was convicted of driving while intoxicated in Durham County in 2015, officials said.

Once Avila-Rodriguez was convicted of a crime, he became a deportation priority, says Cox.

It was on April 18 during a "targeted enforcement" stop in Raleigh that ICE agents encountered Avila-Rodriguez, Cox said. Once it was learned he is a military spouse, officials showed leniency by giving him a few weeks to file an appeal of his order of deportation.

He was told to go to the immigration office in Charlotte in May.

But Avila-Rodriguez didn't file an appeal and that's what got him arrested on May 10, officials said. He finally filed the appeal this week and that's why ICE released him Monday, while the court makes a decision, Cox said.

An attorney for the couple disputes ICE statements that filing the appeal was part of their terms for the May 10 check in with Charlotte immigration officials, calling them "disturbing."

Brown told Newsweek that he was “shocked” at the arrest, having assumed his husband was going to Charlotte’s immigration offices for “just another routine meeting.”

"Sergio called me and he says, 'I've been detained...They're going to deport me,'" Brown told Newsweek. "I feel lied to....It was an absolute trap. It was a trap and a lie."

Brown told TV station WNCN the two married in January 2017, and that he knew of his husband’s immigration troubles and was working to earn him legal status in the U.S.

Avila-Rodriguez came to the country from Honduras at age 7 with an uncle, WNCN reported. ICE officials say U.S. Border Patrol first encountered him near Rio Grande City, Texas, in September 2001, “while attempting to illegally enter the United States.”

"Sergio's quote-unquote crime...was being a 7-year-old who was brought unwillingly, of no volition of his own, to the U.S. by his uncle, and you want to take him out in shackles?” Brown told Newsweek. “It's unbelievable to me. To his mind, this is his home."

It’s predicted that the immigration courts could decide in the next few months whether or not they will reopen Avila-Rodriguez’s deportation case for appeal.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs