Congressional visit gives a boost to deported US veterans in Tijuana
By SANDRA DIBBLE | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 4, 2017
Deported U.S. military veterans told members of a U.S. congressional delegation visiting Tijuana on Saturday that they had paid dearly for their crimes, and wanted to come home.
“I committed a crime and I accept it,” said Eduardo Agustin Garcia, 59, a former U.S. Navy sailor who grew up in Oxnard but was deported to Mexico in 1999 after serving a four-year sentence on a drug charge.
Garcia, who now works in a call center in Tijuana, was among a dozen deported veterans who spoke briefly to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all Democrats on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The deported veterans told of the pride they had felt in the U.S. armed services, some serving in Vietnam, others in Iraq and Afghanistan. They talked about how they missed their families in the United States and needed access to Veterans Administration services. “I just want to go home,” they repeatedly said.
Held at the Deported Veterans Support House near the U.S. border, the event aimed to bring visibility to this issue affecting lawful permanent residents who served in the military and were honorably discharged, but then were convicted of crimes. Because they had not become U.S. citizens, they were deported after serving out their sentences, returning to a country that many had left as children.
The delegation, led by Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham of New Mexico and First Vice Chair Joaquin Castro of Texas, included three Californians: Lou Correa of Orange County, Nanette Diaz Barragan of Los Angeles County and San Diego’s Juan Vargas. Also in the delegation were Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
Also offering support was California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, and her husband Nathan Fletcher, a former assemblymember and Marine veteran.
The visitors were given a tour of the center, which offers shelter and other support services to deported veterans. They also watched a documentary that profiled some of the veterans and told of their struggles in Mexico.
About 60 deported veterans live in the Tijuana area. In a report last year the American Civil Liberties Union said there were at least 239 deported veterans in 34 countries.
“This is an injustice. These veterans fought for the United States,” said Correa. “They broke the law and paid for this mistake. You shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same sin.”
Castro presented the veterans with a U.S. flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol. “We can’t wait to get you guys home,” he said.
The presence of the legislators offered encouragement to the group. Vargas and Grijalva have submitted proposed legislation that would allow the vets to return to the United States, and would take measures so that non-citizen members of the military are informed of their opportunities to become U.S. citizens. Two other members of the delegation are also preparing to propose legislation.
“This is an opportunity for Donald Trump to do something right,” said Vargas. “We weren’t able to get anywhere with the other administration, and we should have.”
Hector Barajas, a deported veteran who founded the Tijuana support house, known as the Bunker, was thrilled with the visit. “Just coming down here is a huge endeavor,” Barajas said. “I think they’re going to leave with a different commitment.”
Barajas is one of three veterans who received pardons earlier this year from California Gov. Jerry Brown, an action that could help with appeals to federal immigration authorities.
Following the congressional visit, Fletcher formally presented the pardons.
©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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