Immigrants have served in the United States armed forces since the Revolutionary War, and one veteran we spoke to noted that, being an immigrant sometimes makes things a little bit more complicated. Hector Barajas served with the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper, but now lives in Mexico, where he was deported a few years ago after he was deported.
Barajas doesn’t make excuses for the actions that led to his deportation, but working with the group Banished Veterans, he and other deported veterans lobby to try to find a way to come back home — the U.S. He told NewsTaco his story.
Barajas’ story goes like this. He came to the U.S. when he was 5 or 6, grew up in Compton and joined the military right after high school, in 1995. He never became a citizen. One day he came home from Fort Bliss outside El Paso to visit his family in Compton; at the time he was in a military alcohol rehabilitation program, he was driving under the influence with some friends. One of them in the backseat thought he was being followed and shot a gun at the car behind them.
“Nobody got hurt,” Barajas told us. He pleaded guilty to the discharge of a firearm and was sentenced to three years in a California state prison. After Barajas said a bad lawyer fumbled his case, he found himself with a deportation hold about two years into his sentence.
Barajas meant to become a citizen, he started the application, but never followed up. He was eventually flown from California to Arizona, where he said he felt like he was in limbo. While in immigration custody he said he felt like he was “being considered an illegal immigrant. I never thought of myself as being an illegal immigrant.” Especially since, as a soldier, he was always attending ceremonies and exercises where his patriotism was praised.
“I was good enough to fight for the country, but all of a sudden, you’re disposable,” he said.
Nine months passed in the Arizona detention facility. One day, in the middle of the night, he was dropped off in Nogales, Sonora. He spent some time in Zacatecas with his grandparents, then tried to come home, was deported again, and has since been trying to find legal recourse to come home to Los Angeles to be with his parents and daughter. He currently works as a caregiver for the elderly in Rosarito, Baja California.
Banished Veterans has been a beacon of hope for him, he told us, about a dozen people work with the group. His dream for the group is to open up different chapters to help other veterans who find themselves in a similar situation. And while he takes responsibility for his actions, he longs to come back to the U.S., for a very simple reason.
“Why do I want to come back? I’m an American,” he told NewsTaco. “There are a lot of Americans that won’t put on a uniform to defend the country, to do what we did.”