BY SANDRA DIBBLE
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS
TIJUANA, Mexico –– Deported U.S. military veterans told members of a U.S. congressional delegation that they had paid dearly for their crimes and wanted to come home.
“I committed a crime and I accept it,” said Eduardo Agustin Garcia, 59, a former U.S. Navy airman who grew up in Oxnard, Calif., but was deported to Mexico in 1999 after serving a four-year sentence on a drug charge.
Garcia, who works in a call center in Tijuana, was among a dozen deported veterans who spoke briefly to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The deported veterans told of the pride they had felt in the U.S. armed services, some serving in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They talked about how they missed their families in the United States and needed access to Veterans Affairs services.
Deported after jail
The delegation’s visit to the Deported Veterans Support House near the U.S. border on June 3 was meant to bring attention to this issue affecting lawful permanent residents who served in the military and were honorably discharged, but then were convicted of crimes.
Because they had not become U.S. citizens, they were deported after serving their sentences, returning to a country that many had left as children.
The congressional delegation was led by Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and First Vice Chair Joaquin Castro of Texas.
About 60 deported veterans live in the Tijuana area. In a report last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said there were at least 239 deported veterans in 34 countries.
“This is an injustice. These veterans fought for the United States,” said Rep. Lou Correa of California. “They broke the law and paid for this mistake. You shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same sin.”
‘Do something right’
Castro presented the veterans with a U.S. flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol. “We can’t wait to get you guys home,” he said.
The presence of the legislators offered encouragement to the group.
Reps. Juan Vargas of California and Raul Grijalva of Arizona have proposed legislation that would allow the veterans to return to the United States, and would take measures so that non-citizen members of the military are informed of their opportunities to become U.S. citizens.
Two other members of the delegation are also preparing legislation.
“This is an opportunity for Donald Trump to do something right,” Vargas said. “We weren’t able to get anywhere with the other administration, and we should have.”