As the United States celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, a group of deported veterans gathered to protest in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Their photo, taken by photojournalist Herika Martínez, went viral after AFP News Agency tweeted it. According to Teen Vogue, as the image circulated on social media, it once again sparked debates about whether these men deserved deportation or citizenship. This coming weekend, their stories will once again get a signal boost once Congressman Joaquín Castro and a delegation of Democrats meet with them in Tijuana.
As NBC News reports, the aim of the visit is to highlight the plight of the about 230 deported US veterans and to discuss how lawmakers can strengthen efforts so that others who serve don’t end up deported. The lawmakers and vets will discuss the Veterans Visas and Protection Act, which would allow the deported vets to return to the US. The act would also expedite the path to residency for other vets.
Though Castro acknowledges that ending the deportation of veterans will continue being a challenge under the Trump Administration, he believes there’s a “strong bipartisan support among Americans to do right by these veterans. We would ask the administration to consider the service these veterans have rendered for the country and the fact they did put their lives on the line. Many of us believe that they should be allowed to become citizens. Many, if not most, were legal permanent residents, who were eligible to become citizens and perhaps never applied – they stood up for their country and put their lives on the line.”
Members of the Edgewood District Veterans Inc – a group based in San Antonio and made up of Vietnam veterans – approached Castro about this issue. One of its members is facing deportation. The meeting between Castro and the vets will take place at the Deported Veterans Support House, a shelter that Army vet Héctor Barajas began in 2013. Barajas has become the face of the deported veteran.
In the 90s, Barajas served in the military. He pled guilty to discharging a firearm, which led to his deportation in 2004. He snuck back into the country to see his daughter, and the US permanently banned him from re-entering in 2009. Barajas, who grew up in the US most of his life, found himself in a country he hadn’t seen since childhood. But he has created a community for those exiled.
It remains to be seen whether Castro will successfully put pressure on the current administration. However, his visit is once again bringing visibility to this issue. Just a few months ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned three US veterans, including Barajas, who – after serving prison sentences – were deported. Brown’s full pardon didn’t automatically allow them to return to the US, but it facilitates any future attempt to re-enter the country.