Two U.S. military veterans born in Mexico, but deported after committing crimes, say they feel deceived because they thought serving would lead to automatic citizenship.
Hector Barajas, 35, was a U.S. Army paratrooper from 1995-2001, but a run-in with the law in 2004 led to jail time and deportation.
He found himself back in Mexico with no friends or family and no way to claim his veterans benefits.
I believed I was a citizen the moment I took the oath in front of the flag.
- Fabian Rebolledo
In pursuit of solutions for himself and others in the same situation, Barajas established the Deported Veterans Support Home in Rosarito, a beachfront suburb of Tijuana.
The house offers food, shelter and Internet/telephone access for the dozen or so deported veterans now living here.
One of the current occupants is 37-year-old Fabian Rebolledo, another former Army paratrooper who was recently deported to Mexico. While free on bail after an arrest for alleged check fraud, he was re-arrested for driving with a suspended license.
Barajas and Rebolledo say they feel deceived, because they thought serving in the Armed Forces would lead automatically to U.S. citizenship.
"I believed I was a citizen the moment I took the oath in front of the flag," Rebolledo said.
The U.S. government has deported around 12,000 military veterans, according to Barajas, who has reached to dozens of people who share his plight through the Web site Banished Veterans.
Many undocumented immigrants who join the U.S. military simply assume that citizenship is part of the deal, immigration attorney Craig Shagin told Efe.
All U.S. veterans have an entitlement to various educational and medical benefits, but those who are deported have no way to access those benefits, Shagin said.
"It's frustrating to see that there is nothing that can be done," the lawyer said.
Shagin lamented that there are no laws to protect veterans from deportation, though he said there was a proposal in congress in 2010 that never moved forward.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not keep track of how many veterans are deported.
"ICE exercises discretion with people who have been members of the Armed Forces who have served our country honorably on a case by case basis," said Lauren Mack, spokesperson for the ICE office in San Diego.
A June 2011 memo from ICE Director John Morton established military service as a factor that can be taken into consideration in deportation cases.
"Whatever action from ICE that can result in the expulsion of military veterans, needs to be authorized by a field office and evaluated locally," the memo read.
Barajas and Rebolledo say they want to promote the services of the Deported Veterans Support Home where they receive tons of phone calls and emails from others in the same situation.
After losing their jobs at a nursing home in Rosarito, both men sell T-shirts and survive thanks to donations from families and friends.
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