A deported army veteran is hoping to be reunited with his young daughter in the U.S.
Governor Jerry Brown announced this weekend he granted 72 pardons and seven commutations. Three of the pardons included honorably discharged military veterans who had been deported after being completing sentences for individual crimes which occurred after their service.
Hector Barajas-Varela was one of the three.
Barajas came into the U.S. unauthorized with his family when he was seven years old and became a permanent resident through the Family Unity Program in 1992.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1995 after graduating from high school in Southern California.
"I wanted to be a soldier, a G.I. Joe, I wanted to serve my country," said Barajas. "I grew up in Compton, California and I wanted to get away from the environment."
He was honorably discharged in 2001 after serving with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Barajas was deported to Mexico in 2004 after serving a prison sentence of three years for being involved with shooting into a house while riding in a vehicle. He re-entered the U.S. the same year only to be deported again in 2010 for a traffic violation.
Barajas said, he initially believed his military service would keep him from being deported and quickly found out that wasn't the case.
However, this time around, his Army service could be a reason he may soon be able to venture back to U.S. soil.
"I'm considered a wartime veteran because of my service during 9-11, which is what's helping me apply for citizenship," said Barajas.
After his second deportation Barajas decided to start "doing things the right way". He settled down in Tijuana and founded the Deported Veterans Support House in 2013.
The house, also known as the "Bunker, helps veterans adjust to life after deportation.
It provides services for deported veterans such as medical and financial help and funeral details for veterans that die outside the country they served. The group also helps raise awareness for deported veterans and works with groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and with state legislators.
The Bunker has been able to identify deported veterans in at least 36 different countries around the world including Bosnia, Jamaica and Italy, according to Barajas.
The organization currently serves around 300 veterans.
Although Barajas was granted a pardon, it's not a guarantee he will become a citizen.
"There's still a legal process that we have to go through," said Barajas. "I'm actually in the process of citizenship."
He stressed he was willing to die for the U.S. and feels that itself is American.
"It's not the best country in the world because it has issues just like everywhere else, but it's my country and it's made up of imperfect people like myself," said Barajas. "I don't think making a mistake makes us un-American."
In addition to Brown's recent pardons, advocates are also pushing a bill in Congress that would keep noncitizen veterans from being deported.
The proposed bill would allow those who have been deported to come back to the U.S. as long as they didn’t commit violent crimes or crimes involving national security with sentences of five years or more.
Barajas said he spends his days working with in the Bunker or catching up with his 11-year-old daughter who lives in Los Angeles. She visits her dad from time to time
If Barajas is granted citizenship, he says he looks forward to many things including being able to vote. The Bernie Sanders fan also said he'd like to work in the U.S. and spend time with his little girl.
"I look forward to taking my daughter to school, taking her to a museum, making breakfast for her," said Barajas.
Barajas said he'll continue his working with veterans in Mexico and the U.S. even if he gains citizenship.
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