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Deported Veterans’ Rights Leader Returns Home to Become a US Citizen

April 17, 2018

By Alexandra Mendoza

Hector Barajas says he is living “the American Dream” for a second time.

The deported veterans’ rights leader crossed the border back into the United States after having been deported to Mexico twice before. Minutes later, he was naturalized as an American citizen.

“This is the end of my journey home, but there are still more veterans out there we need to return, and we have to keep fighting for them,” said the veteran after his naturalization ceremony.

Barajas, who served as an Army paratrooper from 1995 to 2001, was recently pardoned by Governor Jerry Brown for the crimes that led to his deportation, thus opening the door for his return to the country he swore to protect.

Shortly after being honorably discharged from the Armed Forces, he was involved in a shooting where no one was hurt, but which resulted in his legal permanent residence being revoked after completing a two-year prison term and his subsequent deportation to Mexico in 2004. Longing to be with his family, he re-entered the U.S. illegally, and was deported once more in 2010.

While in Tijuana, he founded Deported Veterans Support House and, over time, became the face of a movement to have the U.S. government allow veterans who were honorably discharged and later deported for committing a crime to return home to the U.S.

Barajas wants to continue his work with the Support House, known as the “bunker” in Tijuana, before settling back into his life in U.S. where his parents and daughter – who is almost thirteen now – live.

His plans include finding a job and perhaps even going back to college, but his greatest dream, Barajas said, is to see all his “brothers and sisters” come home to the country “they’re willing to die for.”

His parents, Natividad and Margarita Barajas, who live in Los Angeles, were at the border to welcome their son, and could not hide their excitement for seeing him step on U.S. soil once more.

“We are even happier than when he was born forty years ago,” said his father. “This is one of the happiest days ever for our family.”

According to a 2016 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. government has failed to help immigrants who have served in the Armed Forces naturalize, which has caused the deportation of an “uncountable number” of veterans who had a right to citizenship because of their service.

While the government does not keep records as to the number of veterans deported, the ACLU report estimated that at least 230 veterans have already have been deported after committing a crime.

San Diego ACLU Executive Director Norma Chávez-Peterson stressed that what is needed is new legislation allowing veterans to come home more quickly, since going the pardon route can take a long time.

“If we want to help a larger number of them, [the pathway] needs to be through legislation,” she said.

Some legislators have previously sponsored bills both to provide veterans abroad the medical services they are entitled to due to their service, as well as to bring them home.

Barajas has become the third deported veteran to be allowed to return to the U.S. Daniel Torres was granted his return in 2016, although he was not formally deported but instead left voluntarily. Then, in late 2017, former U.S. Marine Marco Chavez came home after also being pardoned by the Governor of California.

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