Milton Tepeyac is a former Iraq War veteran and small-business owner. After his time in the Marine Corps, he ran a successful seafood company in Arizona until his business struggled during the 2008 recession. In 2009, a friend offered him $1,000 to interpret during a drug deal that was actually a police sting operation. Tepeyac was arrested, convicted of felony possession of marijuana, and served four years in prison. On the day he was released immigration officials were waiting outside to pick him up. Rather than allowing him to reenter society, the agents drove Tepeyac over the border and turned him over to Mexican officials with nothing but the prison clothes on his back.
Tepeyac was brought to the U.S. illegally by his Mexican parents when he was three. Two weeks after graduating from high school he enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving a total of eight years. Under a 2002 executive order signed by President Bush, Tepeyac could have applied for citizenship immediately because of his service. He failed to acquire and sign the necessary paperwork, believing that his oath of service automatically made him a citizen. Since 9/11, over 89,000 people have received citizenship through their military service. U.S. law states that non-citizens that commit serious crimes forfeit their previous immigration status and must leave the country. Tepeyac now lives on three dollars an hour in the Mexican city of Hermosillo, working as an English-language call operator.
Tepeyac’s service in the Marine Corps does not make him above the law. He must be held to the same standard as other lawbreakers, even if he has put his life on the line in defense of those laws. But there is clearly something to be said here in defense of veterans. One of Tepeyac’s former supervisors in the Marine Corps sums it up well: “He could have sacrificed his life for the United States, and he’s going to get deported? There’s an injustice going on.”
If you fight for this country, you should automatically be granted citizenship status without any legal rambling. Military service should disqualify veterans from deportation, regardless of their status when they are discharged from the service. If you are honorably discharged, you should automatically become a full citizen. Period. This should not be contingent on which papers you did or didn’t fill out. A veteran who serves a penalty for their criminal activity should be released from prison back into society like other citizens.
Regardless of their place of birth, a vet is a vet. We civilians understand that our nation was born in war, and that service members are the reason we are safe today. Regardless of party preference, all Americans should agree that anyone willing to serve and defend the United States should be subject to the same processes as longtime citizens. The only way Tepeyac could return home now is if Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform that allows for deported veterans to return to the U.S., an endeavor that is increasingly unlikely in the near future.