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Deported veterans inspired by Bernie Sanders

Presidential candidate singles out group as due for justice

Hector Barajas
Hector Barajas

“I will expand the use of humanitarian parole to ensure the return of unjustly deported immigrants, including our veterans,” Bernie Sanders said in an address posted to YouTube the day before Thanksgiving. “The United States must do the right thing and guarantee the swiftest possible reunification of these broken families.”

Sanders’s declaration gives Hector Barajas, the director of the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, hope that 2016 could be a big year for their cause. Last year, he worked with Sanders’s national Latino outreach strategist, Cesar Vargas, to shine a light on the struggle of deported veterans. This year, he has myriad events planned.

On January 6 at Tijuana's IMAC cultural center, the deported veterans read children stories they wrote for their children as part of a Dreamers' Moms USA event. Books such as Lili and the King of Iceland, Mi Sueño, and Mamá Leona Contra El Muro were read aloud, with most revolving around the theme of family separation. The books will be sent to university and school libraries in the U.S.

On January 23, the ACLU will spend a day at the Deported Veterans Support House in east Tijuana.

“We’re going to try and figure which veterans are eligible for humanitarian parole, asylum citizenship, post-conviction relief, and so on,” Barajas tells me. “It’s a big visit for us because they’re going to work on veterans here in Tijuana, and anyone who wants to call in on Skype…all pro bono.”

In 2016, the deported veterans group hopes to bring forward legislation to alleviate their plight. A major action they’ve planned for May involves turning themselves in to Customs and Border Protection.

“We want to turn ourselves into Customs and Border Protection as a group,” Barajas explains.  “Before that, we want to have some cases with the ACLU. That’s the big event we’re prepping for. We hope to bring in the media and to get people to come across and support what we’re doing.”

The group will continue exploring in 2016 what benefits deported veterans are eligible to receive without having to attend doctors’ appointments, which they can’t do because of their deportee status.

“For one of our 72-year-old veterans, Andreas Rodriguez De Leon, we’ve filed for a low-income pension through the VA,” Barajas said. He doesn’t think there is a reason to deny him his benefits.

“For Vietnam-era vets like Andy, they qualify for a pension, so he should be eligible,” Barajas believes. “If so, he can go travel the world.”

Barajas has also set up what he terms “virtual bunkers” — Facebook groups such as Deported Veteran Support House Jamaican Bunker and Deported Veteran Support House Reynosa Bunker — designed to bring deported veterans closer together in places other than Mexico.

So far, says Barajas, no U.S. politician has visited the Deported Veterans of the U.S. (one Mexican politician has visited), but, “I think this year will be a good year for us."

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Hector Barajas
Hector Barajas

“I will expand the use of humanitarian parole to ensure the return of unjustly deported immigrants, including our veterans,” Bernie Sanders said in an address posted to YouTube the day before Thanksgiving. “The United States must do the right thing and guarantee the swiftest possible reunification of these broken families.”

Sanders’s declaration gives Hector Barajas, the director of the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, hope that 2016 could be a big year for their cause. Last year, he worked with Sanders’s national Latino outreach strategist, Cesar Vargas, to shine a light on the struggle of deported veterans. This year, he has myriad events planned.

On January 6 at Tijuana's IMAC cultural center, the deported veterans read children stories they wrote for their children as part of a Dreamers' Moms USA event. Books such as Lili and the King of Iceland, Mi Sueño, and Mamá Leona Contra El Muro were read aloud, with most revolving around the theme of family separation. The books will be sent to university and school libraries in the U.S.

On January 23, the ACLU will spend a day at the Deported Veterans Support House in east Tijuana.

“We’re going to try and figure which veterans are eligible for humanitarian parole, asylum citizenship, post-conviction relief, and so on,” Barajas tells me. “It’s a big visit for us because they’re going to work on veterans here in Tijuana, and anyone who wants to call in on Skype…all pro bono.”

In 2016, the deported veterans group hopes to bring forward legislation to alleviate their plight. A major action they’ve planned for May involves turning themselves in to Customs and Border Protection.

“We want to turn ourselves into Customs and Border Protection as a group,” Barajas explains.  “Before that, we want to have some cases with the ACLU. That’s the big event we’re prepping for. We hope to bring in the media and to get people to come across and support what we’re doing.”

The group will continue exploring in 2016 what benefits deported veterans are eligible to receive without having to attend doctors’ appointments, which they can’t do because of their deportee status.

“For one of our 72-year-old veterans, Andreas Rodriguez De Leon, we’ve filed for a low-income pension through the VA,” Barajas said. He doesn’t think there is a reason to deny him his benefits.

“For Vietnam-era vets like Andy, they qualify for a pension, so he should be eligible,” Barajas believes. “If so, he can go travel the world.”

Barajas has also set up what he terms “virtual bunkers” — Facebook groups such as Deported Veteran Support House Jamaican Bunker and Deported Veteran Support House Reynosa Bunker — designed to bring deported veterans closer together in places other than Mexico.

So far, says Barajas, no U.S. politician has visited the Deported Veterans of the U.S. (one Mexican politician has visited), but, “I think this year will be a good year for us."

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4

Were they deported because they are felons? If they are deserved benefits so be it, but if they are felons they were deported under the immigration laws. There are consequences. If we want to continue to be a "nation of laws" we cannot keep making special exceptions all over the place for a dizzying array of special interests.

Jan. 9, 2016

There is not enough information here to really tell what the whole story is; "...humanitarian parole, asylum citizenship, post-conviction relief, and so on,” leaves me wondering exactly who we are talking about here. But, my gut feeling is, if they were good enough to serve and put their lives on the line for the USA, then they should not be deported. Uncle Sam should have made the determination before giving them a gun to go kill people in the Middle East. Seems to me they were good enough to do some dirty work for us and now we would like to give them the boot. That's dirty pool.

Jan. 10, 2016

Here is my article from 2 years ago for those interested:

Hector Barajas is an amazing guy just trying to get back to California to be with his daughter. He hosts deported vets in Tijuana and helps them get a place to stay and get their benefits.

Jan. 10, 2016

It was a bit jarring to see a guy who had served in one of the Army's elite units, the 82nd Airborne Division, unable to reenter the US. The report I read earlier about him made the crime that got him deported sound rather minor, and based on it, I'd have hoped he could get reentry approved. What I would not want to see is any kind of blanket amnesty for veterans in his fix, but rather a program to take a second look at their individual situations.

There is a "pathway" for foreign nationals who serve in the US military to become citizens. So, my take is that Bajaras didn't use it to become a citizen. If he had, his crime would not have resulted in deportation unless his citizenship had been revoked, and that would have been a long process. Yes, there should be some consideration given to honorable military service counting for something, and not just automatic deportation. That's especially true when many who were here illegally and who then committed felonies are STILL in the US, and will probably live out their lives north of the border.

Jan. 12, 2016

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