Deported Veterans

I went to the U.S.-Mexico border right at the edge of the Pacific Ocean with some friends involved in many of the immigration issues. There I met Specialist Hector Barajas of Deported Veterans Support House. He served for 6 years with the 82nd Airborne of the U.S. Army, but he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. After his military service he was convicted of illegally discharging a firearm and deported. We talked about the issues of post-traumatic stress disorder and the challenges of reintegrating veterans into regular civil society. For those veterans who have served loyally but make one mistake for whatever reason, there is no forgiveness. Deportation for life is the result. After the veteran dies their family can come to the border to get a U.S. flag and a thank you for their service. The veteran can even be buried in the U.S., but can’t live here anymore. Something is seriously wrong with this!

Daniel Buttry with Specialist Hector Barajas

Author Daniel Buttry with Specialist Hector Barajas of Deported Veterans Support House.

Amid all the crisis over immigration reform and immigrant children locked away in detention centers, there are forgotten soldiers who have served and put their lives in harms way for the United States. These soldiers, legal immigrants to the U.S., fell foul of the law but were given no supports to straighten out their lives. Instead they were deported for life, sometimes going back to countries of origin where they didn’t speak the language because they had come to the U.S. as children.

At the U.S.-Mexico border overlooking the Pacific Ocean there is a park inaugurated under the Nixon Administration. A monument to friendship straddles the border, a few feet south of the massive iron barrier fence that sends a different message about the kind of neighborliness that exists. Deported people meet at the barrier fence to talk directly with family members, unable even to pass anything through under the watchful eyes of the border guards.

Upside-down flag painted on border fence

Upside-down flag painted on the border fence, a symbol for a soldier in distress.

Hector Barajas is the founder and director of the Deported Veterans Support House. He can’t come back to the U.S. where he lived and for which he fought in the Army. His action when he was troubled and trying to reintegrate into society has left him barred for life though he has since become a productive leader and community organizer. His story is repeated thousands of times.

In 2012 over 23,000 permanent legal U.S. residents were deported. No government agency keeps records of the number of those deported residents who are veterans. Barajas has identified veterans from the Vietnam War to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars who have been deported to 19 countries.

Certainly there are some crimes so serious that deportation is warranted. But often the crimes are relatively small, and even tied to PTSD issues that can be addressed with counseling and other support services. Families are shattered, and opportunities to grow and improve one’s life are dramatically cut back.

According to the Washington Post, retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George W. Bush, said deporting veterans “is not fair, and it’s not appropriate for who we are as a people.” What does true justice require?

Hands raised in prayer at the border fence

Hands raised in prayer at the border fence as part of the Eucharistic service.

Further Reading