2 US Army veterans deported to Mexico granted US citizenship
SAN DIEGO (AP) — After fighting in Afghanistan, former U.S. Army soldier Mauricio Hernandez Mata returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder, which he says eventually led to trouble with the law and deportation to Mexico, a country he had not lived in since. when he was a boy.
On Wednesday, he and another deported veteran were sworn in as U.S. citizens at a special naturalization ceremony in San Diego.
The two veterans were among 65 allowed to return to the United States over the past year as part of a growing effort by the Biden administration called Military and Immigrant Veterans Initiative to make amends with immigrants who served in the US military only after deportation.
Hundreds of U.S. military veterans, including those accused of crimes such as drunken driving or theft, have been deported over the years in what immigration advocates and others have called an unfair punishment for those who took up arms on behalf of the United States. . Many are still trying to find legal help to return, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“After my deportation, yeah, I never thought this day would come,” said Hernandez, 41, dressed in a black suit and tie after being presented with his U.S. citizenship certificate. “It’s definitely been a long road. I’m glad we were given a second chance, as anyone who was born in America or fought for America should be.”
Leonel Contreras, 63, who joined the U.S. Army at age 17 and served a year in 1976, was also sworn in at the ceremony.
“I feel very blessed,” said Contreras, who was cleared to return to the United States about four months ago. “I feel very blessed to be back on American soil.”
Both men have spent the past decade living in the border city of Tijuana.
Contreras was deported by US immigration authorities, who detained him at the barber shop where he worked in National City, south of San Diego. His life changed forever.
He continued to work in Tijuana as a barber and found work thanks to his English in call centers, helping to answer questions from clients of American companies. But it was not easy.
During this time, two sons grew up, now he is a grandfather. With his U.S. citizenship in hand, he said he’s not looking back.
“I just want to go to all the places I’ve dreamed of seeing, like the Grand Canyon and maybe Mount Rushmore,” he said.
Hernandez said his deportation followed unspecified “dishonorable actions and mistakes I made due to PTSD.” He declined to provide further details. But he said that after he was allowed back into the country a year ago, he decided to become a U.S. citizen so he could go to the grocery store and not be “terrified” of being picked up and sent back to Mexico.
His 7-year-old daughter hugged him after he took the oath amid cheers from a crowd that included more than a dozen veterans from various industries. Then he turned and kissed his wife.
“I’ve always been an American, the difference is now I’m an American citizen and I have all the rights that any American citizen has,” Hernandez said. “And it was important to me to have those rights to prove that anyone who is willing to give their life, their mind, and give everything they hold dear for American freedom, should eventually find themselves in their life to be considered a U.S. citizen.”