By Cheri Roberts
The United States government regularly offers citizenship in exchange for service and most people don’t realize this. Because of that, stories about deported Veterans are few and far between and even those are often overlooked. Since 1996, the U.S. has deported Veterans who, as legalized citizens, joined the Armed Forces and served proudly in our country’s wars such as Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Iraq & Afghanistan. These vets served both during combat and peacetime. They have been and currently are being deported to various countries around the world that they or their families immigrated from. Of those that there has been contact with, all had legal residency status, Veterans Administration (VA) Benefits as well as strong ties to the United States through other family members and their own lives and service.
Spc. Hector Barajas-Varela served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division from 1995 until 2001. He too is a deported Veteran after being charged with penal code 246 — discharge of a firearm into a vehicle (his charge was ‘at’ and not “into” a vehicle just for clarity’s sake). A Law passed by congress in 1996 dramatically increased the number of crimes that would subject a non-U.S. citizen to be deported. The 1996 law strips legal residents of their green cards and demands deportation if they’re convicted of any number of crimes – from serious, violent felonies to petty cannabis possession charges. Barajas’ deportation – like most everyone else’s, fell under this law.
A new and better policy launched in 2009. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started processing Army recruits’ citizenship applications on the day they entered service; this has since expanded to both the Navy and the Air Force. The new program turns military service green card holders into full citizens within a couple of months. Although this is a positive advancement, it was too little too late for those like Barajas who have already been deported. Barajas estimates that there are between 3000 and 50,000 deported veterans around the world; with more than 1000 in Baja California alone.
As Director of, “The Bunker” a support house for the Deported Veterans of America located in Tijuana, Mexico, Barajas spends his time connecting veterans with one another, and helps them apply to receive benefits and more. These men and women have been set adrift with nothing, not even hope and Barajas does his best to pick up some of the slack while still battling his own case.
Ironically, Hector Barajas-Varela was issued a life deportation yet when he dies, he is eligible to be buried as an American with full military honors. Thankfully, at this time, Barajas is now once again eligible for citizenship however; he is trying to retain a probono immigration attorney to help get the ball rolling. There is no guarantee his application will be approved.
There is currently a documentary called, DEPORTED VETERANS, THE FIGHT TO RETURN HOME, in the works. The website says,
Identity, humanity and justice. A documentary about veterans banished from the country they were willing to die for, fighting to return home.
Identidad, humanidad y justicia. Un documental sobre veteranos del ejército estadounidense desterrados del país por el que estuvieron dispuestos a dar la vida y su lucha por regresar a casa.
Deportation has separated and destroyed families. It has destroyed finances and it has challenged even the deepest faiths. For Barajas, making a difference in other people’s lives and bringing awareness to the plight of these veterans is key to getting through this. Watching them die while separated from all that matters is devastating.
In mid-April of this year, another deported vet, Hector Barrios, passed away. He was drafted into the Vietnam war in 1967 and after serving the country he loved and had adopted as his own he was deported and estranged from all he knew, only to die on lands that were truly foreign to him. How many more of our Servicemen and woman will die on foreign land because our government sent them there?
This is not just another immigration issue, this is a humanity issue and goes a long way to show the utter disregard for service members by the United Sates Government. These deportations have gone on for decades and systemic changes are slow at best.
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