By Anesia Byrdwell
Cliff Kelley is a Vietnam veteran, host of America’s Heroes Group, and on-air personality at WVON 1690AM. Recently America’s Heroes Group discussed a subject rarely spoken about when dealing with veteran’s issues, deportation of military veterans. Some veterans may not even know that they could be facing the issue of deportation until it’s too late.
The panel spoke with Susana Sandoval, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner who is currently on a National Deported Veteran Rights Tour.
Sandoval’s famous saying #wecandobetter is the perfect hash-tag to describe the way our country can do better regarding the treatment of veterans. Sandoval has been traveling the United States with Vietnam veterans, bringing awareness to the deportation of veterans. The group traveled together in a van with the saying “stop the deportation of vets” on signs that draped over the vehicle, a bold and smart way to bring attention to this little-known veteran’s issue.
Deported Veterans House, also called “The Bunker” was formed in Tijuana, Mexico in 2004. Over 100 veterans throughout 30 countries who have been, or are about to be deported, have turned to the Veterans House for assistance. All of the veterans seeking help had legal residency status and honorable discharges. The veterans are still entitled to their veteran’s benefits, which are administered through the Veterans Benefit Administration, but they find it impossible to use them since they have been deported to countries where their military benefits cannot be accessed.
The purpose of the Deported Veterans House is to provide deported veterans assistance with medical, financial, and emotional care, with the goal of enabling them to possibly become U.S. citizens.
It is a little-known fact that foreign born military personnel are not promised citizenship or even granted a green card for serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. A permanent resident can speed up the citizenship process by serving in the military, but nothing is promised in writing. The majority of the veterans facing deportation served in the Vietnam War and have made the United States their home since serving our country.
Sandoval mentioned a veteran who served in “Kosovo and Afghan- istan for several tours of duty and this veteran is currently being held in a detention center.” There are also veterans who served in the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars during peacetime and active combat. Awareness must be made of the fact that we have people who have served in our military with honorable discharges, and they fear they can be deported at any time.
There must be some kind of intervention from political figures in order to make a change in the way our country handles veterans who could be deported.
Governor Jerry Brown of California pardoned a deported U.S. Army veteran named Hector Barajas, and he is now a U.S. citizen. The governor stepping in was the only way to get the veteran back in the United States and the only way this veteran could finally get the U.S. citizenship he deserves.
Barajas became a permanent resident of the U.S. when he was a teenager, in 1992. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the Army; at this time, he could have applied to become a naturalized citizen. Barajas was not informed correctly and he assumed that his military service would automatically make him a U.S. citizen.
In 2001 after he received an honorable discharge he returned home with PTSD and other problems that caused him to engage in some negative behavior. He had a DUI conviction in 2001 and in 2002 pled no contest to shooting at a vehicle. He served more than a year in prison and was then deported to Mexico in 2004. Barajas has been quoted as saying “that was 15 years ago, the incident. I’m more mature now, older. We all make mistakes.” He goes on to say he is “100 percent sure I’m not going to make a mistake as stupid as that was, putting myself in a situation.” Barajas’ story is one of many that all too often go unnoticed in this country unless someone speaks the truth and stands up for deported veterans. Governor Brown also pardoned two other deported veterans and granted them U. S. citizenship.
The Brothers Valenzuela: Vietnam Veterans Fighting Deportation from the United States
Standing up for deported vets is exactly what the Valenzuela brothers are doing, even while their own immigration case is being resolved in the courts. Both brothers served and retired from the armed forces, but this did not prevent them from facing deportation. The Valenzuela brothers were born in Mexico, their mother was a U.S. citizen from New Mexico. Pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act, U.S. citizenship is automatically granted to any person born within and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The federal law further states those persons born “by birth right to a U.S. citizen in another country, their children born in a foreign country become automatically U.S. citizens.” In 2011, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) figures confirmed that there were at least 3,000 veterans facing deportation to their original countries.
Some veterans being detained are without medication, are facing hearing loss, and are suffering traumatic brain injury due to serving several tours of duty. One veteran from El Salvador was interrogated about why he feared returning to his country. He indicated that having served in the U. S. military would endanger his life if he were returned to El Salvador. His native country would consider him a traitor for serving the U.S. government. This type of situation can make veterans feel alone, after risking their lives to serve a government that would deport them.
Sandoval spoke about how as a civilian she feels ashamed that we have asked people to serve for us and now we are deporting them. “The United States continues to spend money to send people abroad who will fight for us, but we won’t provide for their medical needs and ensure that they can stay in this country for both physical and mental health needs.”
The United States’ history of using non-citizens to serve in wars dates back to the Mexican-American war in 1848. Promises have been broken to these veterans. Now is the time to speak up and stand up for those who have risked their lives to serve our country.