WASHINGTON, July 2, 2020—The American Immigration Council will honor U.S. Army Commissioned Officer Valdeta Mehanja with its American Heritage Award, which recognizes the talents, contributions, and accomplishments of immigrants and their advocates.
The award will be presented at the American Heritage Awards virtual celebration on July 22.
“Valdeta Mehanja has dedicated her life to contributing to the United States. Because she never gave up, and because people didn’t give up on her either, Valdeta Mehanja realized her dream to become a United States citizen, a senior commissioned officer, and is now training to become a Black Hawk helicopter pilot,” said Beth Werlin, executive director of the American Immigration Council. “Her story is a testament to the enduring power of our country’s immigrant history and the contributions of immigrants. This year we are thrilled to commemorate and salute Valdeta Mehanja for her commitment to America and her service to our nation.”
Mehanja, a native of Kosovo, fled Yugoslavia at a young age after the civil war erupted in 1991 and her family was forced to live as refugees in Germany. Mehanja returned to Kosovo once the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission liberated Kosovo from ethnic cleansing. She went on to work as a contractor for the U.S. Government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2010, Mehanja secured a student visa to complete her undergraduate degree, followed by a work visa to complete her graduate studies in the United States at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. She later joined the U.S. Army under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program and has continued advocating for immigrants throughout her career.
“Like millions of people in the world living in war zones or areas of conflict, my siblings and I would dream of living and working in the United States of America. Of course, it was a big dream to dream for refugees in a refugee camp, but we always knew that we belonged in the United States of America,” said US Army Commissioned Officer Valdeta Mehanja. “My accomplishments and contributions to America wouldn't have been possible if I didn't have people who helped me along the way. It was not easy to get here; it was a very long journey, but those people saw something in me and fought for me.”
The Council has recognized the achievements of many outstanding immigrants and their advocates. Past honorees include General Colin Powell, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, and writer and human rights activist Gerda Weissman Klein.
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