“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."