Today we celebrate those who sacrificed and served on behalf of our great country. Unfortunately, that memo hasn't been extended to all branches of the federal aparatus.
Hector Barajas, Manuel and Valente Valenzuela, and Milton Tepeyac all have two things in common: They served this country with honor and distinction in the United States military, and they have faced deportation from the very country they swore to defend abroad. According to Barajas's group Banished Veterans, at least 3,000 veterans are in immigration detention centers or facing deportation hearings at any time. This number has come about following former marine Louis Alvarez's time in El Centro Deportation Center before successfully beating his deportation in court. The Department of Homeland Security has denied Freedom of Information Act requests regarding the official number of veterans facing deportation, citing national security reasons.
How did we get to this shameful point?
Back in 1996, Congress and President Bill Clinton redefined "aggravated felony" in the immigration code to include a multitude of misdemeanor offenses. The redefinition of "aggravated felony" works retroactively and has led to veterans who served as far back as the Korean War being deported. Veterans have been deported to countries like Mexico, Germany, Jamaica, Portugal, Italy, and England, amongst others, placing veterans in circumstances where they haven't been in decades, know no one, and don't speak the language. This has doomed them to fail or face a ridiculous uphill climb.
Non-citizens and permanent resident aliens have served in this country's military from the Revolutionary War to present day. Currently, 35,000 non-citizens currently serve in the military, and 5,000 permanent resident aliens enlist each year.
Hector Barajas served in the 82nd Airborne in 1995. In 2004, Barajas faced a deportation hearing following pleading guilty to firing a weapon at a car his friend believed was following them. Barajas claims he didn't pull the trigger and maintains his innocence. Barajas was deported to Mexico, a country he had not returned to since he left before his fourth birthday.
Manuel and Valente Valenzuela are brothers and Vietnam veterans in their 60s, and both are facing deportation for offenses they committed over a decade ago. Manuel is a former Marine who carried out rescue missions, and Valente was an Army soldier who was wounded in battle and received a Bronze Star. The brothers claim the only transgressions in their past are misdemeanors, but under the new definition of aggravated felony, they now face deportation by the Department of Homeland Security. Senior citizen veterans are facing deportation for past transgressions over a decade old.
Milton Tepeyac served eight years as a Marine, was deployed in Kuwait, and after his discharge opened his own seafood restaurant. He now lives in a Northern Mexican city and makes $3 an hour following his deportation. Tepeyac has not lived in Mexico since the age of 3. During the 2008 recession, he was offered $1,000 to help with a drug deal which turned out to be a sting operation. Tepeyac now lives in a room that floods when it rains and encounters scorpions as they enter his room. This is housing unfit for a man with the service he put into this country.
In a sad irony, these honorably discharged veterans still possess the right to be buried in the United States with the American flag draped over their coffin. Our veterans deserve to live out their lives in the United States. They took up the cause to serve, and our government should ensure they stay in the country they fought to protect.