Hector — I came to the United States when I was seven and joined the military when I turned eighteen in 1995. I served with the 82nd Airborne. It was the best time I ever had.
A couple months after I left the military, it didn't take me long, I had problems with alcohol and addiction. I was in El Paso, Texas with some friends, doing things that we should not be doing. Someone in the car fired a vehicle and I was sent to prison for 3 1/2 years. After I did my time, I was deported in 2004.
I returned to the United States, and I was an undocumented person working with the union and earning 30-something dollars an hour. In 2009, I was involved in a fender bender and they found out I had a warrant for an unpaid ticket for driving with headphones. It was a stupid ticket that, if I had paid it, I would have been ok. I was ordered deported for 20 years.
Before I got deported this last time, I was getting involved with a group in San Diego, helping veterans facing deportation. When I found myself in Tijuana, I started getting involved here. Deported veterans started living with me. I opened the Deported Veterans Support House.
Initially, it was just supposed to be a shelter. But the veterans that I would come across, including myself, were coming off of the prison system. Most, if not all, served in combat. We have some type of issue, whether it's psychological or emotional, maybe drug abuse — there's something that's not right. Well, you can't solve the problem by just housing people. When you get deported, you have to have a system in place to provide counseling and help people find work. Without support, without community, you'll end up falling.
Our goal is to go home. From what I've seen, it's not as easy as it seems. We have to continue our advocacy and see if we can get some laws changed. We are figuring out ways to help veterans get the benefits they've earned. Working with deported veterans is new for the Veterans Administration. When a veteran gets deported, he can't go back to a VA hospital to get his medical rating. We learned that there is a foreign medical program but they won't see you until you've been rated. We're trying to get that fixed.
The benefit that we can receive is that, once we die, our bodies can be taken back to the United States and we can be buried there with full military honors. We've had that happen already. Benefits should not be denied.
This affects children and it affects the veteran. I have a daughter in the United States. Not being there for her is the worst part of this whole thing.