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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.