Hector Barajas, an Army veteran who was deported to Mexico in 2004, learned on Thursday that the United States is finally allowing him to return to the country he once served.
Barajas has been fighting to return to the U.S. for more than a decade now. His story has been featured in places from Playboy to CNN, as well as on Splinter. Bernie Sanders highlighted his case during the 2016 Democratic primary.
Barajas grew up in Compton and had permanent resident status when he joined the Army in 1995. He was under the impression that he had automatically gained citizenship status after successfully completing basic training, not realizing that he had to formally apply for citizenship. In 2004, after being honorably discharged, the United States deported him to Mexico, a country he left before his fourth birthday.
Barajas was deported after he pleaded guilty to firing a weapon at a car that his friend believed was following them. No one was wounded, and Barajas maintains he didn’t pull the trigger.
“We make decisions in life that have consequences but just because I committed a crime doesn’t mean I’m any less than American than my peers,” Barajas told Splinter on Friday morning.
Ultimately, Barajas’ attorneys found a clever way of getting him back into the U.S.
After more than a decade of failed legal fights with the federal government, Barajas’ representatives asked California Gov. Jerry Brown to pardon him.
Brown announced he was pardoning Barajas last April. He noted that Barajas had served about a year in prison and another year on parole before he was deported in July 2004.
Now that Barajas doesn’t have the offense on his record, he’s eligible to become a citizen. He said his citizenship ceremony is scheduled for April 13, 2017.
“I didn’t have a simple case and I think this decision symbolizes there’s hope and opportunity for other deported veterans,” Barajas told Splinter.
Immigration officials claim they do not track the number of veterans that have been deported. But a 2016 report from ACLU of California found the U.S. government has deported at least 239 veterans.
Barring circumstances like Barajas’, none of the deported veterans are allowed to return to the U.S. until they’re dead. Deported veterans who have been honorably discharged are still entitled to a burial at a U.S. military cemetery.