Deported Veterans – America’s Dirty Little Secret

by on March 29, 2022 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach, Veterans

By Mike James

Twenty five years ago on April 1, 1997, legislation became effective that would rip families apart, disregard fundamental human rights and send once honored individuals into exile.

After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, there was an uproar for new immigration laws. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was the result. Signed into law by President Bill Clinton, he, like many other politicians, wanted to pass immigration legislation that emphasized enforcement prior to the run-up of the 1998 national elections.

Within this complex legislation every “illegal alien” convicted of any “aggravated felony” was subject to expedited removal proceedings.

The term “aggravated felony” was created by Congress to reclassify crimes under immigration laws. The new classification made minor offenses like shoplifting, driving with an expired license or possession of marijuana deportable violations.

Critics of the legislation argued that it punished U.S. citizens and noncitizens of all statuses “by eliminating due process from the overwhelming majority of removal cases and curtailing equitable relief from removal.”

One of the most disturbing results of the legislation was the deportation of hundreds of U.S. veterans. After service in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, these veterans are now living in exile because of misguided and draconian immigration laws.

Beginning with the Revolutionary War, the United States military has included noncitizens. Roughly 35,000 non-citizens are currently serving in active-duty military and about 8,000 join each year. Yet, until they become naturalized citizens they are subject to be removed from the country they serve.

Like many veterans, life after military service was not always easy. Many struggled, not only with physical injuries sustained in combat, but also with emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Sometimes this led to criminal convictions which would then trigger deportation hearings.

In most cases military service was never taken into consideration during those hearings. Soon U.S. veterans found themselves banished, separated from their families, deported to their country of origin.

Since many of these veterans came to the United States when they were children, they had difficulty adapting to their new life. Some did not even speak the language. Many struggled, living on the streets, unable to find work.

Some were unable to receive medical care, the same care readily available to veterans in the United States.

Without proper medical attention a few of the deported veterans passed away, their bodies sent back to the United States to be buried with honors for their service.

This month a multi-day event which included workshops and seminars was held in San Diego to address the deported veterans issue. In attendance were local, state and federal government representatives, advocate groups, veteran groups and even high school students from Washington D.C.

At the event, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a former U.S. Marine, spoke at the VFW Hall in Barrio Logan. A longtime advocate, he reminded those in the audience one of the core beliefs of the U.S. military; “Leave No One Behind”.

Over the years, the ACLU, Border Angels and other advocates have represented deported veterans seeking to legally return. There have been a handful of successful reversals allowing individuals to re-enter the United States.

Recently there has also been positive progress by the federal government in correcting this injustice.

On July 2, 2021, President Biden, who voted against the Act back in 1996, halted veteran deportations and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to track down those who have been deported and to create a process for deported veterans and their families to return home to the U.S. as part of an effort to provide a pathway to citizenship.The Department of Veterans Affairs is also taking a active role.

The Department of Defense is now encouraging and assisting non-citizen active duty military to take the steps to become U.S. citizens.

There are two pieces of legislation in Congress addressing the deported veteran issue:

H.R.2382 – Veterans’ Pathway to Citizenship Act of 2021 is in committee. It would “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to recognize the service of veterans of the armed forces by providing a more navigable and accommodating pathway for veterans honorably discharged from the United States military to naturalize and seek citizenship, and for other purposes.“

H.R.4890 – Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act has left committee and was introduced in the House in February 2021 and in November it was introduced in the Senate. The Act would bring an end to the deportation of non-citizen U.S. veterans for now and in the future.

Progress rectifying this social injustice unfortunately will take time.

There are approximately 40 U.S. deported veterans now living in Tijuana.

Since 2014 many have been able to seek help from the Deported Veterans Support House. Known as the “Bunker”, the facilities are located near the international border. The house not only provides temporary shelter but much needed resources. Some of the services provided are basic living necessities, medical care referrals and connecting them with legal services with the ultimate goal of being repatriated.

Recently the Support House in Tijuana has become the newest chapter of Veterans for Peace.

On Sunday May 1st, a benefit concert will be held at Winston’s in Ocean Beach. All proceeds will go to the Deported Veterans Advocacy Project and the Veterans for Peace Chapter in Tijuana.

The concert will feature the legendary guitarist Javier Bátiz. The 77 year old Tijuana native will be making a rare U.S. appearance with his band.

Starting in the late 1950s, Bátiz learned to play R&B and blues, performing in bars on Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana. It was during this time he mentored a young Carlos Santana.

Santana moved north to San Francisco, Bátiz moved south to Mexico City, each bringing to the world a unique sound that only a border town could produce.

Over the past six decades Bátiz has trained thousands to play the blues. In Mexico he is affectionately known as Maestro, the teacher. On May 1st, he will perform with some of his talented prodigies.

Opening for Bátiz will be the Latin Rock band, Sol Sacrifice, who will be playing the hits of Santana.

Tickets are $20 and are available here.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris March 29, 2022 at 5:15 pm

In my military career (20 years), I never did a recruiting tour but had plenty of friends who did. If they were stationed in areas with a large immigrant population they would use that to their advantage. Immigrants from low income communities were easy targets with false promises of either automatic citizenship or at least a much easier pathway to citizenship than was actually the case.


Jan Michael Sauer March 29, 2022 at 8:50 pm

Excellent article .


Antonio lopez May 13, 2022 at 7:46 pm

I would like to see is a law that the US government cant steal our ssi pension benefits from deported people that paid into the system but for some reason maybe racialism . i paid with sweat legally but wont give me whats mine. my country EL Salvador will never take care of me when i cant take care of my self i will die of starvation , the government of El Salvador should not accepted a 50 year old man that left at 1 year old.


David October 20, 2022 at 1:35 pm

What is my honorable discharge worth… if a fellow veteran can take a bullet and then be deported for drinking or smoking grass? Sorry about your medical problems, sucka. What does ‘honorable’ mean any more? I just saw ‘American Exile’ on public TV showing the Valenzuela brothers, one who had earned a bronze star. At the end of the program was blue that said Biden reversed this on July 2, 2021. Is that the case? …. or is it a mere pronouncement. I have yet to hear.

He is still earning that bronze star for fighting against this violation of every veteran’s oath. Equality under the law? For whom. . .


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