"Hector Barrios died this week.
It’s okay if you’ve never heard of him. You have no reason to know who he is.
The short version: Hector was a decorated U.S. veteran who died abroad, impoverished and estranged from the country he loved and served, with none of the benefits entitled to him as a veteran.
Barrios was born in Tijuana, Mexico. In 1961, at the age of 18, he moved to the United States. In 1967, at the age of 24, he was drafted into the U.S. military to do his part for the war effort. He did not go back to Mexico or hide out in Canada. He did not dodge the draft or evade the call to duty. Hector spent a year in Vietnam, fighting for his adopted country.
“Every day incoming fire, everything, fighting -- you didn’t know if you were going to come back home,” he says in an interview taken before his death.
Barrios was injured fighting for America, took head wounds in combat, but he survived the war and was able to return home.
“Thank God I came back. Many of my fellow soldiers didn't make it back.”
Barrios received the Army Commendation Medal for exceptionally meritorious service and his discharge paperwork listed him as a U.S. citizen. He earned his citizenship with blood and his friends say he was proud to be an American.
But the war wasn’t without its cost.
“It changes one’s life. It changes everything. I came back crazy.”
Barrios may have been suffering from PTSD and turned to self-medication.
After being arrested and convicted for possession of marijuana, Barrios was summarily deported from the country.
Barrios claims in the interview that he didn’t have a chance to plead his case, that he wasn’t given proper representation.
Immigration law reforms implemented in 1996 require the deportation of any permanent resident convicted of any of a long list of criminal offenses regardless of military service, whether they have a spouse or children who are U.S. citizens, without appeal.
These changes eliminated judicial discretion in deportation proceedings. According to the law, if a non-citizen or permanent resident is convicted of a crime on the list, they must be deported and no judge can rule otherwise.
“I had a green card. They took it away. But I have my citizenship of the United States in my service paperwork. I took an oath,” he says in the video recorded on the weekend before veteran’s day 2012.
The video documents how Hector lived out the rest of his life in Tijuana, in poverty. He worked a job at a taco stand to get by, but speaking of the “suffering” there, he said, “I have a job, but not enough to eat. There is never enough.”
This man who fought and was injured serving America was allowed to live out the rest of his natural life with none of the Social Security or healthcare benefits veterans are entitled because he was caught with some pot.
“I think it’s unjust to deport someone who fought for her… the United States,” Hector says in the video.
Barrios left a dying wish for others in similar situations: “I hope that everything turns out well and that they help us because I’m not the only one.”
The Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) estimates 70,000 non-citizens enlisted in the U.S. military between 1999 and 2008 and once enlisted, non-citizens tend to serve longer than their citizen counterparts.
According to a recent bio on another deported vet in the Huffington Post, the group Banished Veterans, an advocacy organization of more than a dozen deported vets living in Mexico just 30 miles from the U.S. border estimates 8,000-40,000 military vets have been deported after serving their country -- the number is so nebulous because no U.S. agency actually tracks the deportation of veterans.
The group is hoping Congress will pass immigration reform bills that allow deported vets to return to their homes.
Hector never stopped hoping he would have the chance to return to America. According to his friends, he loved the U.S. until the end." - JC Sevcik, UPI, Apr. 25, 2014.