Friday, April 13 was an auspicious day for U.S. Army veteran Hector Barajas.
Although the former green card holder had been honorably discharged from the 82nd Airborne Division, once back home, he nevertheless found himself deported to Mexico after conviction and prison time for a gun related offense.
But that Friday, Barajas was putting the last 14 years in exile behind. He said a tear-choked goodbye to the other deported veterans who gathered to see him off at The Bunker, the Tijuana shelter he established.
“It’s been a long road. A lot of the work is finally paying off,” he exulted. Nevertheless, he reminded his the vets about “all the brothers that are still here. We have the motto ‘Leave no man behind,’” he said, promising continued involvement in The Bunker and urging friends to rise to the challenge of their repatriation.
Then he was officially escorted into the United States and taken to the San Diego office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for his naturalization ceremony.
Outside, after the ceremony, a crowd of media and well-wishers listened to Barajas and Norma Chavez-Peterson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, San Diego, who has been working on behalf of Barajas and other deported veterans.
“We welcome Hector Barajas back home. But he is only one of hundreds or maybe even thousands of foreign-born men and women who have served in our military,” she emphasized.
Former San Diego Assemblyman and Marine Nathan Fletcher chimed in with a similar call to remember those left behind.
“We celebrate today and we redouble and recommit ourselves to not resting until every single veteran who was honorably discharged and took an oath to this country is allowed to come back.”
A critical part of Barajas’s quest was the pardon he received last year from California Governor Jerry Brown. Barajas was ebullient about that, as well as the attention his naturalization was receiving from “a lot of different people, media, a lot of visitors. I got friends from Florida coming, Fresno, L.A., San Diego. It’s pretty cool that people care.”