Immigrant Veterans’ Memorial Day Protest Sheds Light On Deportation Issue In Armed Services

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AFP News Agency posted a picture to Twitter on Tuesday (May 30) of U.S. Army veterans protesting on Memorial Day in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Why would U.S. Army veterans be protesting in Mexico on a day meant to honor their fallen peers? Because after they provided their service, under the impression that they would be granted citizenship, they were deported back to what the U.S. government defined as their “home” countries.

There was no additional information on the seemingly peaceful protest, but the story of the Deported Veterans Support House provides enough insight into their anything-but-patriotic tales.

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For the U.S. holiday dedicated to veterans, Now This posted a profile on the deported veterans community built from the ground by a fellow deported veteran, Hector Barajas. “The Bunker” has a database of over 300 men and one woman in which they are fighting the ultimate battle of U.S. citizenship for. The range of countries and nations that “The Bunker” serves includes Colima, Peru, Juarez, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Haiti, and more.

Of their vastly growing database, lies the story of a U.S. veteran with Jamaican citizenship. He remained unidentified throughout the video, but shared his journey of how he went from high school straight to the war, and found his way back to a country that was foreign to him for 23 years, because of a 14-year-old, marijuana-related conviction. He reminisced on how he felt as he was on his way to war in his uniform, remembering experiencing a “sense of pride.” The veteran in question left behind his mother, wife, kids and siblings.

Jeffrey Brown, who was also deported to Jamaica, addressed the stigmas that are paired with being deported, detailing it as a “death sentence,” “life sentence in prison,” or wearing a “Scarlet Letter.” Antonio Romo, who was deported to Mexico in 2008 after serving seven years in federal prison for selling cocaine, embodies the feeling of betrayal he’s experienced, “I feel abandoned. I feel left behind. I feel like a prisoner of war. For God’s sake, we’re veterans.”

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Jennie Pasquarella of the ACLU in Southern California, details the systemic issues that exist in relation to this group of veterans. Pasquarella identifies what seems to be the main legal issue as the lack of a process to distribute entitled V.A. benefits to deported veterans. Essentially, while they are entitled to benefits such as disability compensation and pension, without a system that recognizes them, their service goes unaccounted for.

Romo expresses that he knows that if he never makes it back to America while he’s alive, he’ll at least be buried there. All veterans qualify to be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

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Pasquarella admits her astonishment with this oxymoron, stating, “The law provides that you can come home dead but not alive.” The Director of Immigrants’ Rights continues, “Because if you serve in the military you’re entitled to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery and have a military burial. But you aren’t valued enough for your service to be able to come home and be reunited with your family.”

The simple fact that of the veterans Pasquarella has spoken with at the ACLU, 73 percent of them didn’t have the assistance of a lawyer throughout their deportation process, to being led blindly through a system that will allow you to put your life on the line, but revokes the citizenship that they promise you, highlights the one-sided patriotism that these deported veterans have experienced.

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The video details how soldiers are told they receive citizenship, but never described the path on which they need to travel to get there. Some have been told by higher command that they have no idea either. As a result, they assume their citizenship is granted, naturally, through the enlistment oath, which is nearly identical to the naturalization oath.

But still, many of these veterans are sent down a variation of the pre-school to prison pipeline system, which sends them from war to prison and back to their “home countries.” But, as veteran Antonio Romo says, “We paid our dues. I don’t think we deserve this.”

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