TIJUANA, MEXICO – Alfredo Varon is a 56-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army. He served as a specialist 4 assigned to NATO in Europe for six years, before starting his own business in New Jersey.
But in 1998, the Colombian immigrant’s American dream came crashing down when a 10-year-old attempted forgery conviction for a $300 check got him deported.
Now, with President Barack Obama expected to announce an executive order to overhaul immigration reform, Varon is part of a group of deported veterans who are demanding that they benefit from any action taken on immigration.
These military veterans say they risked their lives to serve in the U.S. military – some even served in the Vietnam War – and yet they were not only kicked out of the country they served but they also don’t receive any medical benefits from the military.
"I feel is what they did to me is unfair and it affected a lot of veterans in the world,” Varon told Fox News Latino. “I feel that now that now that I'm getting older we should pursue that cause and, with this new executive order immigration in the spotlight, I hope veterans are noticed and helped out.”
Varon, who says his father and grandfather both served in the U.S. military, had been living in New Jersey since he was 4 when his deportation order was approved. He said the current immigration policies “discriminate against veterans that served our country."
He was a legal permanent resident when he landed in legal trouble, and though he was spared jail time he could not escape deportation because he had not become a U.S. citizen, he said.
Legal immigrants are allowed to serve in the military and usually get a fast-track to citizenship – but if they get into legal trouble before their paperwork is completed, they face deportation. Hector Barajas Varela, a 37-year-old military veteran who is leading the crusade for deported veterans, said there are hundreds of vets who want to return to the country they once proudly served.
Barajas is founder of the Deported Veterans Support House, a group based in Tijuana, Mexico, that has been working with Washington lawmakers to change legislation so that hundreds of deported veterans across the world might legally return to the U.S. Although the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has called for deported veterans to be given special consideration, their cases often remain on the back burner.
"We take in men that serve the U.S. military, and we give them shelter we help then get on their feet, we don't charge them rent, we give them three square meals,” Barajas said. “We have veterans that are deported to 22 different countries so we are the hub of deported veterans throughout the world, we are also connected with congressmen to introduce legislation and we work with different veteran organizations to hopefully get in, be part of this executive order with president Obama and get a change in congress."
Obama has not given specifics on what the immigration plan would entail – and many have said it is still being worked on. Fox News reported last week that the president intends to shield some five million from deportation – and Deported Veterans Support House wants veterans to be among those who receive protection.
Leaked details of the plan say among the groups that would benefit from executive action are undocumented immigrants who have U.S.-born children as well as the parents of children who qualify for Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a 2012 initiative that suspends deportation for certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors.
The deported veterans have been pushing members of Congress to lobby for them to be included in any executive action Obama decides to pursue. A bill currently being proposed in Congress, S744, would shield some veterans from deportation but Deported Veterans Support House is trying to expand it to allow all former service members who were deported to be allowed to return to the U.S.
Before news broke that Obama would issue an executive order, Varon and Barajas were both planning on surrendering to U.S. border agents in order to be taken into custody and have their case heard by an immigration judge. They are holding on – for now – and are instead now focused on rallying up support for their cause in Congress. No members of Congress have made a move to have them included in executive action, said Hugo Castro, the international liaison for the deported veterans who works with the non-profit group Border Angels.
Two Congressmen the group has tried to lobby, Juan Vargas (D-California) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois), did not respond to requests by Fox News Latino seeking comment.
Varon and Barajas say many deported veterans are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of their time in the military and are not receiving the same medical treatment that the citizens they served with are receiving.
“We should be allowed that same treatment and we should be in the United States with our families,” Barajas said.
Barajas said if Obama truly wants to protect immigrants he should not forget those who gave their life to serve in the country.
“We are Americans, we love our country, we are willing to die for it. We will be buried, ultimately, as Americans and we leave no man behind,” he said. “...They left us behind. We are stuck without benefits, our children are being raised without parents – American children that deserve their right to have their parents with them."