It’s deeply shameful we deport veterans; it's deeply shameful we don’t even have a full accounting of how many veterans have been deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after serving their country. NBC News reports that a request to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a number went unanswered. That’s likely because it doesn’t know the answer.
“Because ICE does not maintain complete electronic data on potentially removable veterans it encounters, ICE does not know exactly how many veterans have been placed in removal proceedings or removed,” the non-partisan Government Accountability Office said in a 2019 report.
NBC News reports that Luis was just 20 when he enlisted in the U.S. military, and was deployed to Panama, where the Carter administration had signed treaties turning over control of the Panama Canal. “My job was to defend the Canal against any suspicious activities,” he said in the report. “When Jimmy Carter signed the treaties, we were prepared to respond just in case.”
But Luis was captured and tortured by Panamanian authorities, the report said. His undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder following that kidnapping and torture resulted in him self-medicating, eventually leading to a drug conviction in 1997. These sort of convictions can often lead to deportation even if immigrants have legal status. “The law did not consider his military service.”
Once in Nicaragua, he struggled to maintain a livelihood due to his undiagnosed PTSD. He eventually moved to Mexico, where, in 1997, he reached out on Facebook to the Brotherhood of Deported Veterans, one of the grassroots organizations serving deported vets. “When Luis first contacted me, he told me it was hard for him to get around,” founder Juan Martinez told NBC News. “I didn’t want to see him dying here. He didn’t deserve to get back to the U.S. in a coffin.”
Brotherhood of Deported Veterans began helping him with paperwork, and he was eventually connected to the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. In March, he would finally return home to the U.S.
The American Civil Liberties Union has estimated that perhaps U.S. 200 veterans have been deported, while the GAO said ICE had put an estimated 250 veterans in proceedings, NBC News said in 2019. Deported veterans have won the right to return throughout past years, but the Biden administration has made returning deported veterans, along with family members, official policy. While not a deported veteran himself, advocate Robert Vivar returned on Veteran’s Day last year.
Waiting for him on the U.S. side of the San Ysidro port of entry was his son, an Air Force and National Guard veteran, also named Robert Vivar. “They hugged,” CBS8 News reported. "Dad, welcome back to the United States, welcome back," he cried.
Slightly before the Biden administration’s official announcement last summer, deported military spouse Alejandra Juarez returned to the U.S. after three years, in time to celebrate Mother’s Day with her daughters. “The only word I can tell you is it felt like a miracle,” she told The Ledger in May 2021. “It is a miracle, if you look at my history. I have a life bar, meaning that I was never supposed to be able to step into American soil. It is incredible. It is unbelievable. I can’t digest it. I can’t grasp it yet. I’m still in shock.”
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'Dad, welcome back': Advocate for deported veterans wins his own fight to return to the U.S.
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