Hector Barajas (right) was pardoned by governor Jerry Brown earlier this year.
A U.S. Army veteran who was deported to Mexico has filed a complaint against the federal government in hopes of returning to the U.S.
Hector Barajas, 40, filed the complaint on December 12, and while the complaint is confidential, his journey is not.
Barajas came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was six years old. He obtained a green card but never finalized his citizenship. In 1995 he joined the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and served for the next six years. Not long after leaving the military, Barajas was arrested for shooting at a car. In 2004 he was deported to Mexico. Barajas returned to the U.S. and was living illegally until he was deported again in 2009.
In recent years Barajas opened a shelter in Tijuana call the Deported Veteran Support House, also known as "the bunker." Since opening the shelter, Barajas has become the face of deported U.S military veterans.
In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report that found over 200 former military members had been deported. But as is the case with Barajas, the federal government has been slow to process naturalization requests for veterans who want to return to the country.
The report found that many of the veterans believed serving in the military granted them immediate citizenship — it does not. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union discovered that the military wasn't doing enough to ensure that foreign-born military members were given a clear road to naturalized citizenship. That was the case for Barajas, according to an article in the Union-Tribune.
But help may be on the way.
San Diego congressmen Scott Peters and Juan Vargas have drafted a bill that would end the deportation of veterans. In April of this year, governor Jerry Brown pardoned Barajas, the first step toward returning to America. Now comes the legal battle.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and Latham & Watkins are representing Barajas. They declined to comment for this article.
UPDATE 12/14 7:45 a.m.
“A lot of good things have happened here," said Barajas. "In many ways I've become more patriotic. Americans can take things for granted and you don’t realize it until those things are taken away.
"At the same time it’s been difficult. I grew up in the U.S. It’s my home. My daughter is there. But my work at the bunker helps remind me that I, and everyone else for that matter, can take the negative and turn it into something positive. I could become more bitter and angry but that won't help anything.
As for what he will do when, and if, he returns, Barajas said, "I want to start my life all over again, go to school, find a new career, but always be a part of this mission.”