Deported veteran returns to the U.S. to become citizen

Matt Saintsing
April 13, 2018 - 4:05 pm

Photo by Alejandro Tamayo/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA

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Hector Barajas, a U.S. Army veteran, was convicted of shooting at an occupied vehicle in 2002 and was subsequently deported back to Mexico. On Friday, Barajas crossed the border into the U.S. once again, this time, however, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Dressed in his dress blue uniform, and wearing the maroon airborne beret, an emotional Barajas thanked his family and legal team, and a struck a gracious tone when addressing reporters and supporters.

 “I want to apologize, once more, for what got me deported. I’m not proud of the circumstances that led to it, but I am proud of the service and work I’m doing today,” said Barajas.

“I lost out on birthday parties and taking (my daughter) to school, and that’s the most difficult thing for everybody, not just myself, but for deported veterans and dreamers alike…everybody.”

Barajas was born in Mexico and was brought to the U.S. when he was seven years old. He served six years in the U.S. Army with the 82nd Airborne Division, and was honorably discharged in 2001. The next year, he pled guilty to shooting at an occupied car and served three years in prison.

After serving his sentence, he was deported to Mexico in 2010.

Then last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Barajas, which paved the way for Barajas’ U.S. citizenship.

Former San Diego Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a veteran of the Marine Corps, advocated for Barajas’ return, but said his mission in Mexico is far from over.

“Hector's committed that even though he's going to get his citizenship, his work isn't done. He said he's going to spend another year in Tijuana as a U.S. citizen, with the ability to go back and forth but continuing the work that we all support,” said Fletcher.

Barajas was raised in Los Angeles, and became a lawful permanent resident. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1995, he enlisted in the Army.

“It’s hard not to get emotional, but there is so much more we need to do to address this deported veteran situation,” said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“When a green card holder or a dreamer joins the military, their citizenship should be automatic and they shouldn’t have to find out later they’re not a citizen.”

During the 10 years he was living in Mexico, Barajas founded, with the help of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs in San Diego, Calif.,  and ran the Deported Veterans Support House, commonly known as “the bunker,” in Tijuana, Mexico.

Part of his work included getting better health care for veterans living in Tijuana.

Barajas was just one of the more than 230 deported U.S. veterans, according to the ACLU.

In a statement, Gov. Brown said Barajas “has shown that since his release from custody, he had lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen.”

Hear how it all began, in our interview with Hector Barajas: