California Governor Pardons Three Deported Veterans To Help Them Regain Residency

Deported Veterans

Following their honorable discharges from the military, three former servicemembers were convicted of crimes and deported. None of these crimes resulted in a physical injury to another party.

Marines Erasmo Apodaca Mendizabal and Marco Antonio Chavez, as well as former soldier Hector Barajas Varela are the Veterans pardoned by California Governor Jerry Brown, which may restore their green cards and allow them to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, also a Marine Corps veteran, worked on their cases, and said, “The injustice we are solving is not the actual crime or conviction, the injustice is what the federal government did to them.”

As a lawful permanent resident, Erasmo Apodaca Mendizabal joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school. During his three years of service, he was deployed to Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. He earned a national defense service medal and other military honors.

In 1996, he broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house when he was drunk and stole $500 worth of goods. He was convicted of burglary and was deported in 1997 after serving a ten month sentence.

At 19 years old, Marco Antonio Chavez enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for four years.

In 1998, he was convicted for animal cruelty and served 10 months in prison. An immigration judge considered his conviction an aggravated felony, which led to his deportation in 2002.

He moved with his family to Mexico, and his wife, who does not speak Spanish, commuted across the border for work. Eventually his family moved to Iowa, leaving him in Mexico.

Hector Barajas served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 1995 until he was honorably discharged in 2001. When he returned home to Compton, CA, he struggled to adjust to civilian life. One night, he was arrested for shooting a gun from his vehicle. Even though no one was hurt, he was charged with assault. He pleaded guilty to illegal discharge of a firearm and served two years in prison. Then he was deported to Mexico.

Barajas established the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana to help fellow deported veterans adjust to their new lives. “The Bunker” as it is known, is a two-story apartment covered in military posters and American. flags.

After receiving a heads-up, Fletcher was in Tijuana with Barajas when he learned that the governor had granted his pardon.

“He was stunned, he started crying, he was overwhelmed,” Fletcher said. “He couldn’t believe it. He’s had just years and years of bad news, yet every day he gets out there and tries to help.”

Immigrants who serve in the United States military are eligible for citizenship. All of those who serve often have problems adjusting to civilian life and this should be a consideration. With their pardons and the reason for their dismissed green cards gone, their lawyers will argue that the crucial permit for living and working in the United States should be reinstated

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Should Military Service Earn Non-citizen Veterans a Second Chance at Citizenship?


By Debbie Gregory.

A baby born on U.S. soil is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. Another path to citizenship is through military service. In fact, joining the U.S. military has always been one of the fastest ways to get U.S. citizenship. But it doesn’t happen automatically. And unfortunately, veterans who did not go through the process of becoming citizens, if they get in trouble, can be deported.

This is a fact known all too well by Hector Barajas-Varela. Born in Mexico, the 39-year-old Army veteran came to the U.S. illegally when he was seven. Although he donned a U.S. military uniform and received an honorable discharge, Barajas-Varela never followed through on his naturalization paperwork.

In 2002, Barajas-Varela was deported after pleading guilty to felony charges resulting from issues with alcohol and drugs. He founded the Deported Veterans Support House, known as the Bunker, a shelter for former U.S. military servicemembers who find themselves in the same situation.

The Bunker offers assistance and support from fellow veterans and volunteers.

Miguel Gabriel Vazquez is one of two Vietnam War veterans who offer counseling at the Bunker. Vazquez, a trained counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, comes to the bunker once a week to do individual counseling.

“They all have PTSD whether diagnosed or not,” said Vazquez, who has not been deported but lives in Rosarita Beach, Mexico, where he moved to write a book on healing PTSD naturally. “These guys get all that plus the trauma of being deported.”

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is considering Barajas-Varela’s application after his crime — discharging a firearm — was reclassified and is no longer an aggravated felony.

Naturalization used to be part of basic training, but the laws changed. As a result, lots of green card holders went to Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming citizens.

U.S. immigration law states that non-citizens who commit serious crimes forfeit their right to remain in the country. Deported veterans and their advocates say those who wear the uniform should be treated as U.S. citizens: punished for any crimes they commit, but not deported.