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Ivan Ocon, who grew up in Las Cruces but was deported to Mexico for breaking the law, stands in front of a U.S. flag at his home in Juárez in 2019.
Ivan Ocon, who grew up in Las Cruces but was deported to Mexico for breaking the law, stands in front of a U.S. flag at his home in Juárez in 2019. (Blake Gumprecht, Las Cruces Sun-News/TNS)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — A U.S. Army veteran from Las Cruces who was deported to Mexico has enlisted some help in his push to come home.

Ivan Ocon, 44, served in the military for close to seven years, including a stint in Jordan during the Iraq War. He has lived in Ciudad Juárez since being deported to Mexico in 2016, prohibited even from visiting his mother and daughter in Las Cruces.

Now the Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic is assisting him in his petition for military naturalization.

Born in Juárez, where he lived for the first seven years of his life, Ocon was a legal permanent resident but not a U.S. citizen. His 18th birthday passed without him applying for citizenship through his father, with whom he says he has no relationship.

Ocon's next opportunity at citizenship would have been through the military, but VSLC said the Army failed to assist him.

Ocon has stated that, at the time, he did not understand immigration laws that would have allowed him to apply for naturalization. After he left the service, his prospects grew more complicated after he got into trouble with the law.

Ocon says he, like many veterans of wars abroad, entered a troubled period after coming home.

A 2019 Las Cruces Sun-News story detailed his legal plight following a 2006 incident in El Paso that led to him being charged with aiding and abetting an armed kidnapping. Ocon said he was not a participant, but had knowledge of his brother's actions in the crime and did not report him to authorities.

After serving nine years in federal prison, Ocon was deported. However, he calls Las Cruces, where he grew up and graduated from Oñate High School (since renamed Organ Mountain High), his home and considers himself an American.

"When I was deported, I lost everything," Ocon said in a written statement. "I know I have a complicated past. I went through a dark time when I returned from the service, and I have taken responsibility for my actions and served my time. I now want nothing more than to live my life with my family and friends in the United States."

During his time south of the border, he has supported fellow service members through the Deported Veterans Support House, which described him as a leader and advocate.

The legal clinic says that under current law, his criminal conviction, for which he completed his sentence, would not prevent Ocon's naturalization. With the clinic's help, Ocon has filed a N-400 application, beginning a process that could take a year or more, based on median processing times reported by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Casey Smith, a law student intern with the VLSC, expressed hope for an expedited process.

"Veterans like Mr. Ocon often serve our military only to live their lives in exile. Countless veterans have been deported," Smith said in a news release. "President Biden has committed to repatriating veterans, and one way he can do so is by speedily approving naturalization petitions like Mr. Ocon's, where the law now allows for his return."

In July, the federal departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs announced a new collaboration pushing to assist deported veterans eligible to repatriate and extend veterans benefits. The effort aims to fulfill a Biden campaign promise to stop targeting veterans for removal and welcome back as many as are eligible — which could amount to thousands.

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