Formerly deported military veteran votes, keeps fighting for others still in exile
Since winning his decade-long fight in April to return to the U.S. following his deportation, U.S. military veteran Hector Barajas-Varela has tried to be many things for many people. Sometimes he’s traveling and sharing his story. Sometimes he’s back in Mexico, to help run the Tijuana center he founded for other deported veterans. Still, it always comes always back to his role as dad.
“At a Mesa College panel on Wednesday,” the San Diego Tribune reports, “Barajas choked with emotion when he spoke about spending time with his middle-school aged daughter. No matter how many events he’s invited to or panels he’s been on, that happens every time, Barajas said.” Since coming back to the U.S., he was able to attend her first band recital. Sometimes they just hang out at home. Mostly, the two are “trying to rebuild a relationship after years of being deported.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimated in 2016 that there are some 239 other Hectors, immigrant service members who were kicked out after serving their adopted country. “They can be deported for committing a list of crimes set in immigration law,” the San Diego Tribune continues. Barajas-Varela complained that some people initially sympathize with the issue of deported vets, but that can quickly change. “Nobody wanted to listen to us. People stop listening when they hear, ‘criminal.’”
Since winning a pardon from outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown—Barajas-Varela “has shown that since his release from custody, he has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen,” Brown wrote—and then a court victory with the help of the ACLU, he has kept listening to deported vets, some of whom as struggling with mental illness and conditions related to combat. Sometimes he feels like he doesn’t do enough.
“’I can’t be everywhere,’ Barajas said. ‘Everything I’m doing on the other side is going to benefit them. They want me here.’ He’s now rented an apartment up the street for deported veterans instead of having them sleep upstairs at the shelter.” Barajas-Varela said in April that he hoped to keep heading The Bunker for a year, and then pass the leadership role onto another deported vet so that he can live full-time here and eventually return to school.
Barajas-Varela has already taken some brand-new steps as a U.S. citizen. Earlier this year, he cast his ballot for the very first time, and then in the 2018 midterms voted for Democratic Congress member Nanette Barragán, who in 2017 had been part of a congressional delegation visiting Barajas-Varela when he was still living in Mexico. “It meant a lot to be able to vote for someone who had supported him, he said.”