L: Veteran Hector Barajas near a U.S. port of entry in Mexico in 2013. R: Barajas in Compton, California in 2018.
Photo: Jorge Rivas (Splinter)

Hector Barajas joined the Army in 1995. He was honorably discharged in 2001. Then, in 2004, the country he served ended up deporting him.

Barajas was a green card holder. But in 2002, he was found guilty of shooting at an occupied car. Barajas says no one was hurt. He paid his debt to society by serving 13 months in prison. But since he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, he was put on a flight to Mexico.

Barajas fought to come back to the U.S. for the last 14 years. “I’ve done pretty much just about everything,” he told Splinter.

Throughout his time in Mexico, Hector Barajas stood in front of traffic approaching the U.S. port of entry near San Diego with a sign that read “Stop deporting veterans.”
Photo: Jorge Rivas/Splinter

Barajas and his advocates really tried everything. For years, his attorneys tried to get him back in the U.S. by arguing he was eligible for citizenship after completing basic training in the military. This is technically true, but Barajas didn’t submit the proper paperwork.

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At one point Margaret Stock, a certified MacArthur “genius,” took on Barajas’ case. An ACLU attorney and Latham & Watkins LLP, a private law firm, also worked on Barajas’ case. His advocates met with the Obama administration for assistance. Bernie Sanders also met with Barajas and made his case a campaign issue during the 2016 primary.

Hector Barajas, pictured here in Tijuana in 2013, is the most outspoken deported veteran. His story has been shared everywhere from Playboy Magazine to Splinter—we first started covering his story at Fusion in 2013.
Photo: Jorge Rivas/Splinter
Barajas joined the 82nd Airborne in 1995, he served as a paratrooper. He told Splinter he jumped out of planes at least 22 times.
Photo: Jorge Rivas/Splinter

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In 2016, the ACLU reached out to Nathan Fletcher, a Marine Corps combat veteran who previously served in the California State Assembly, for support. And this is where things take a turn.

Fletcher presented a question that changed everything: If Barajas was deported because he was found guilty of committing a crime, what would happen if that crime went away?

Brilliant minds came together and formed a coalition called Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported. They devised a plan.

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The coalition formally requested that California Governor Jerry Brown pardon Barajas. And just before Easter Sunday last year, he did. It was the first time that a governor has pardoned a veteran who had been deported, and Barajas is believed to be the first deported veteran to be granted U.S. citizenship.

Hector Barajas standing near his mother’s home in Compton, California.
Photo: Jorge Rivas/Splinter

Once the pardon went through, his attorneys went back to their original plan and got Barajas his citizenship. Barajas was sworn in at a naturalization ceremony on April 13, 2018. Barajas says he looks forward to being able to spend more time with his daughter and doing things he missed, like dropping her off at school.

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Hector Barajas holds his naturalization certificate, the document he fought for and that ultimately allowed him to return to his home in Compton.
Photo: Jorge Rivas/Splinter