Immigrant brothers at home in Marines

With the ink on their citizenship papers barely dry, two brothers from La Junta joined the Marine Corps to give something back to the country they say has been so good to them.

Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher “Chico” Vigil, 20, and his brother, Cpl. Manuel Vigil, 22, say they are happy to be serving together at the Marine Corps Air Station at Beaufort, S.C.

“Beaufort reminds us of our hometown, small and quiet,” Manuel Vigil said. “It’s got that La Junta hometown feeling. There’s a Super Wal-Mart an hour away in Savannah (Ga.).”

Christopher Vigil says both enjoy their jobs at the Marine base.

“I love it. I am a travel clerk; I take care of all the Marines who come from all over and arrange their trips. Say a Marine stationed in San Francisco is coming to Beaufort, I take care of all his expenses and itinerary," he said.

“Manuel takes care of pay for deployed Marines who are going to Iraq or other locations. When a Marine goes on deployment, he makes sure all his entitlements are correct and his record book (service history) is good.”

Military service also reminds Manuel Vigil of being back in Colorado.

“It’s almost like being at home. Instead of my mom telling me what to do, the staff sergeant tells you what’s up,” he said.

The Vigils also agree that without their mother’s hard work, they never would have become citizens or eligible to enlist.

Roseanna Vigil’s pride in her boys is apparent even over a long distance telephone line.

“I am so proud of my boys. After they became citizens, they had the choice of college or the military. They chose to serve their country,” she said.

Roseanna Vigil said her sons were born in Mexico City. “Their father was a Mexican citizen, but I am an American citizen born in Denver.

“In 1987, when the boys were very young, I returned to the United States. I met my husband, Keith Vigil, and after we married in 1988, he adopted the boys,” she said.

“We had been trying to get the boys legalized since we were married, but were constantly frustrated,” Roseanna Vigil said. “We had all the legal paperwork done, but kept getting turned down by the INS (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, now the Bureau of Immigration and Citizenship). For some reasons, papers got lost or deadlines were not met.”

Manuel Vigil said their uncertain citizenship status led to some curious situations.

“They couldn’t send us back to Mexico because we didn’t exist. There was no record of us being born in Mexico or of being in United States,” he said. “When we went to all these immigration hearings and whatnot, we were the only ones who spoke fluent English."

“I don’t know any damn Spanish,” Manuel Vigil said. “My friends said, ‘You were born in Mexico and you don’t speak any Spanish?’ I told them, ‘I am a new and improved Mexican.’’ ”

As the years went by, the boys compiled impressive records as students and athletes, both excelling in wrestling. It was at La Junta High School that Christopher Vigil was approached by Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gray Glenn, who was working out of the Corps’ Pueblo recruiting office.

“I told my brother, ‘Whatever, I’m not going into the service,’ ” Manuel Vigil said. “He (Glenn) left us alone when he found out we didn’t have Social Security numbers.”

Just about then, Roseanna Vigil sent yet another form to the federal immigration service, registering the letter and obtaining a receipt.

“They told us they never received the form,” she said. “I called Doris Morgan and told her about the mess and how frustrated my husband and I were.”

Morgan, regional director for U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said that the Vigil family’s experience is not uncommon.

“There’s just so much paperwork that flows back and forth between constituents and the INS,” Morgan said. “It took a little subtle reminder from our office that those folks had sent in the paperwork. Then they were able to find it.”

In April 2004, both boys were declared naturalized citizens.

“They had a decision to make,” Roseanna Vigil said. “I told them they could either go to college or sign up for the military. They chose to join the Marines.”

Christopher Vigil, who lives on base with his wife, Brittany, said he is thinking of going career with the Marines when the four-year stints he and Manuel signed up for end in 2008.

“We can go to college right here on base and the Marines guaranteed us $50,000 each for college, which we haven’t even tapped yet,” he said.

Manuel Vigil said he hasn’t made up his mind about what he is going to do but that he misses his family, his brother, Phillip, 15, and sisters, Lanae, 12, and Tyanna, 10.

“When my mom calls and tells me about my brother and sisters going to wrestling matches and growing up, yeah, I miss them,” he said.

Neither brother is overly concerned about the possibility they could be sent to serve in the Iraq war.

“The unit we are attached to is not deployable, though we could be transferred to another unit and then deployed to Iraq,” Christopher Vigil said. “It’s no big deal if we are deployed.”

The young men brought an important part of their heritage with them to South Carolina.

“Mom made sure we learned how to cook when we were younger,” Christopher Vigil said. “We make Mexican food all the time - I get my corn tortillas at Wal-Mart.”