Two L.A. Area Congresspeople Go To Mexico To Visit Deported Vets
When Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán visited Hector Barajas on Saturday in Tijuana, Mexico, she greeted a man proudly wearing a U.S. Military uniform. But despite having served his country, Barajas cannot legally return to the U.S.—he was deported more than a decade ago.
Barajas, who was brought to the U.S. by his parents at age seven and enlisted at 17, served for seven years in the U.S Army's 82nd Airborne Division before being honorably discharged in 2001. "I wanted to be a soldier, a G.I. Joe, I wanted to serve my country," Barajas told ABC 10 last year. "I grew up in Compton, California and I wanted to get away from the environment."
Barajas struggled with the transition to civilian life after he finished his service. He grappled with addiction issues and had subsequent problems with the law. After serving three years in prison, he was deported in 2004. He re-entered the U.S. later that same year, but was deported in 2010 following a traffic violation and has continuously resided in Mexico since. Sadly, Barajas is not the only banished veteran in similar straits. In Tijuana, he runs the Bunker,” or the Deported Veteran Support House, a shelter that helps other veterans who have been deported. NBC reports that there an estimated 230 military veterans who have been deported from the United States. Barajas—along with three other deported veterans—was formally pardoned for his crime by Governor Jerry Brown in April 2017.
Barragán, whose district includes Barajas' former Compton home, traveled south to Tijuana to visit the group of deported veterans with a delegation of six other members of the U.S House of Representatives. “It was shocking to learn that veterans receive citizenship after dying while in active duty and deported veterans are flown back to the United States to be buried with full military honors upon their death," Barragán said in a statement.
Representative Lou Correa shakes hands with Hector Barajas in Tijuana. (Photo courtesy of Representative Lou Correa)
“These veterans have done their time. They deserve to return home on their own two feet, not to return home in a box," she continued. According to Barragán, naturalization was once a part of military basic training, but the laws have since changed. As of January 2017, there were 10,644 non-citizens currently serving in the U.S. military.
"Anyone who fights for the freedom of our country should be granted citizenship. Period," Barragán said, adding that she is doing everything she can to help Barajas obtain U.S. citizenship so he can return to the country—and his young daughter, who lives here in Los Angeles.
“This is an injustice. These veterans fought for the United States. They broke the law, but paid for their mistake. They shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same sin. No one who is honorably discharged should be dishonorably deported," Orange County Congressman Lou Correa, who also took part in the trip, said in a statement. "As every solider knows, you never leave a solider behind. I will continue to work until every one of them comes home,” Correa continued.