Hector Barajas served six years in the military, including time as an airborne paratrooper. But the country he served deported him to a place he barely knew.
On July 7, nine war veterans, including Barajas, gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border to request a humanitarian visa to enter the country. At the same time, Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego is proposing legislation to address the situation of deported veterans.
Many people may be surprised to learn that some war veterans who fought for America have been deported and are now fighting to return to the country they defended.
These immigrants hail from all over the world and were not citizens when they fought for the U.S. or after they were discharged. DHS does not have an estimate of how many deported veterans are banned from entering the U.S., but the numbers may be in the several thousands.
Like some American citizen veterans, they have been convicted of crimes related to post-traumatic stress disorder and were charged with “aggravated felonies,” which is a broad term that does not necessarily include violent crimes. Due to their conviction, they were caught in the immigration system, which heavily penalizes these type of felonies. Convicted immigrant veterans have been deported as regular undocumented immigrants without special consideration or “discretion” for their service.
The ACLU of Southern California recently published a study called “Discharged, Then Discarded: How U.S. Veterans Are Banned by the Country They Swore to Protect. You can read the report here.
Veterans in this situation receive a lifetime of punishment and are denied access to VA services. ACLU and other advocates are calling out the federal government for its lack of action on this issue. They are currently issuing recommendations such as allowing judges’ discretion to consider military service as a mitigating factor in deportation cases, requiring a moratorium on removal cases for honorably discharged veterans, reopening naturalization processes for people unable to participate in their process due to military service, and providing legal representation to all U.S. service members and veterans in removal proceedings.
Hector Barajas is one of the best-known representatives of the Deported Veterans movement. He heads Deported Veterans Support House, also called The Bunker, a Tijuana-based organization that provides shelter and help to the deported veterans dumped at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Barajas joined the U.S. military with a green card, but after returning from his service, he was arrested for shooting a gun from his vehicle. Although nobody was hurt, he pleaded guilty to illegal discharge of a firearm and served two years in jail. After that, he was deported.
Barajas looks forward to the day DHS will give him and his deported brothers in arms a chance to return to the U.S.
“We’re still waiting,” he says. “We hope they are at least reviewing our cases and giving us an opportunity, [so] we get access to our VA. No veteran should die on this side of the border due to lack of health care.”
What are Barajas’ plans for the day he crosses back to the U.S.? “See my daughter and go to the VA. I have a lot of health issues.”