By Guadalupe Peñuelas
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Jul 9 (EFE).- Dozens of Mexican-born veterans of the United States military who were deported to this northern border city have newfound hope of returning to the country they served after the White House pledged to review their immigration cases.
Jose Francisco Lopez, director of the Deported Veterans Support House in Ciudad Juarez, said he fought in the Vietnam War in 1968 and risked his life in the service of that global superpower.
Lopez was deported to Mexico 18 years ago after being detained for a minor drug offense.
“I consumed marijuana and later cocaine. One time when I went to buy drugs a police officer pretended to be the seller and that’s how they arrested me and then brought me to Mexico. I only came with a shirt and pants,” he told Efe on Friday.
After key defenses against deportation were eliminated by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, the US began expelling veterans who had served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars, as well as in conflicts in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
A large number of these deportees, many of whom had arrived in the United States as undocumented children, were forced to leave behind families in the US and return to a country they barely knew.
But after their grievances went ignored for years, their situation may change thanks to Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House this year and his administration’s less restrictive immigration policies.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs is working with the US Department of Homeland Security and other partners to identify deported veterans and ensure they are able to obtain the benefits to which they may be entitled, the DHS said in a statement last week.
As part of that initiative, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to “immediately conduct a review of policies and practices to ensure that all eligible current and former non-citizen service members and the immediate families of military members are able to remain in or return to the United States.”
He also directed those agencies to “remove barriers to naturalization for those eligible and improve access to immigration services.”
Ivan Ocon, who also helps run the support house for veterans in Ciudad Juarez and has a young daughter in the US, was deported to Mexico in 2016 after serving in Iraq in 2003.
“There was no progress under the previous administration (of Donald Trump), but with this news that they’re going to bring us back there’s hope of reuniting with our families,” he told Efe.
“I served the country and I thought they couldn’t deport me. And when suddenly they told me that my service was immaterial and good luck in Mexico … that was like a stab in the chest,” Ocon said, adding that he buried “brother soldiers” and still remembers the pain of that experience.
After years of deportations, the experiences of Lopez and Ocon are just two of the dozens – or even hundreds or thousands – of stories of foreign-born veterans of the US military who have been deported.
Although the exact number of these people is unclear, recent announcements by Biden and his administration have revived the hopes of many.
On June 8, a Mexican-born US Marine Corps veteran who had been deported for a minor offense sued the US government after he was barred from re-entering the country to continue his naturalization process, the migrant’s attorneys said.
And in May the Deported Veterans Support House, with the backing of US lawmakers and civil rights defenders, launched a campaign in Los Angeles to urge the Biden administration to “bring home” all veterans of the US military who have been deported. EFE