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When he answers his phone, Aslan Lamarche speaks in a voice that's shaky and nervous. He's slow to speak and takes long pauses until he's sure he recognizes the voice on the other end. Lamarche knows that any call — especially one from a number inside the United States — could mean the end. And for Lamarche, like his fellow war deserters living in Canada, the end probably means deportation to the States and spending at least a year in prison.
"I just want this to be over and get on with the rest of my life," says Lamarche, a native of South Florida. His application for refugee status in Canada was denied. He's appealing. "God, I miss home.
Lamarche grew up in Miami and moved to Hollywood when he was 16. On his left wrist is a tattoo that reads, "Miami 305." Not long after turning 18, he joined the Marines. After boot camp, he attended the Marines' School of Infantry. He finished in October 2007.
"That's when I deserted," he says. "I knew I couldn't go to Iraq and die for this illegal war."
So a week after his 19th birthday, Lamarche, who had never lived outside Florida before joining the military, moved alone to Toronto, a place he'd never been. There he met other deserters through the War Resisters Support Campaign.
Considering that Canadian courts are rejecting asylum requests from American deserters, Lamarche knows his options are limited. He can try to rejoin the service and face a harsh court-martial and total ostracism by his fellow Marines. He can turn himself in and go to jail and deal with the consequences of a dishonorable discharge, including a black mark for potential employers or universities. Or he can try to stay in Canada as long as possible and keep running.
"I've been up here going on a year and a half, and I just don't see any solutions on the horizon," he says. "Just more storms."
South Florida is no stranger to Iraq War resisters. Camilo Mejía, a Nicaraguan-born former staff sergeant in the Florida National Guard, was the first soldier to refuse to serve in the war. After six months in Iraq, Mejía did not return from his two-week furlough. His application for conscientious objector status was rejected by the Guard. He eventually spent a year in the Fort Sill military prison in Oklahoma.
For now, the campaign gives Lamarche some financial assistance, as do his parents, who live in Miami. Both of his parents immigrated to the United States — his mother from Trinidad, his father from Cuba. He speaks to them a few times a week. "It's sad. My parents came to the U.S. for a better way of life," he says. "And now their oldest son had to leave that same country for the same reason."
He attends a technical school in Toronto, where he's taking classes to become a physical therapist. He says he has a girlfriend and would like to marry her one day if he can straighten out this part of his life.
"It's hard to be 20 years old and be hated by two governments," he says. "And Canada is a very strange country in a lot of ways. They just have this blind trust that their government will do the right thing. The majority of Canadians want us to stay. They say, 'Don't worry. Everything will be fine.' But at the end of the day, none of them are willing to fight for us."
As for critics who might argue that Lamarche volunteered to fight and then later refused to go, he says he refused to honor a contract for a government that lied in order to go to war. "Why should I give my body for a contract with a government that doesn't honor me? My government lied to me. They've lied to the world and to the American people, and draft or no draft, there's no excuse. This is a poverty draft. Most of the people in the military are from poor backgrounds in bad neighborhoods."
Lamarche says he's heard claims Iraq War deserters aren't as sympathetic as draftees from Vietnam. He has harsh words for such critics. "If someone wants to sit there and tell me: 'This isn't the '60s!' I'll punch him in the mouth."
Though he lives by himself, he takes solace in the friends he's made among the other deserters. "There's a camaraderie among the guys up here," he says. "We might be from different branches of the military, but we've become best friends. For a lot of people, this is the only family they have."
One friend Lamarche made eventually turned himself in. Before he got on the plane headed back to the States, he turned, saluted, and uttered four words to Lamarche.
Those words are now tattooed on Lamarche's left wrist, just above the Miami ink: "Live Free or Die."