Manuel de Jesus Castano, a Vietnam veteran, was getting medical care for lupus and Lou Gehrig’s disease at the Department of Veterans Affairs in El Paso, Texas, when he was deported to Juarez, Mexico.
Castano’s friends say he was deported for a misdemeanor based on allegations that were retracted after he had already been deported.
Castano passed away at age of 55 in June 2012, about a year after he was deported. He died away from his family, including his sons who also served in the military.
Only then, after death, could he return to the U.S. According to military policy, honorably discharged veterans, even those who have been deported, are entitled to burial at a U.S. military cemetery.
“Deported veterans aren’t considered citizens again until their body is dead,” Clavo Martinez said in telephone interview. Martinez, a fellow veteran, helped Castano’s family bring his body back to the U.S.
Castano received a burial with full military honors, according to Martinez. He was buried in Fort Bliss National Cemetery with an American flag on his chest.
Castano’s son, a Marine, handed the U.S. flag to Castano’s mother—his own grandmother. (Pictured right)
About 35,000 non-citizens currently serve in the U.S. military, and approximately 5,000 permanent resident aliens enlist each year. Unless they become citizens, they’re all at risk of deportation if they’re charged with committing a crime.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could not provide statistics on the number of deported veterans.
“Current and historical statistics on veteran removals are not readily available,” said ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice when Fusion requested numbers in 2013. Calls for comment for this story were not returned.