TIJUANA, Mexico – At the United States-Mexico border city of Tijuana, a small house serves as a meeting point and shelter for people who served in the US Armed Forces but were later deported due to a minor offense or misdemeanor.
Mexican-born veteran Jose Melquiades is one such case.
Born in Guadalajara, the 64-year-old veteran arrived in the United States at the age of 11.
He started his military service in the early 1970s – when the Vietnam War was in its final stages – and worked as a helicopter weapons systems trainer.
One day, he was caught in the middle of a shooting and was arrested, an event that started a legal process that held him in jail for 490 days, but failed to convict him, although he was eventually deported.
His mistake, by his own admission, was failing to exchange his permanent residency for US citizenship when he had the chance, as he thought he “would never need to.”
“My goal is to return, because I consider (the US) to be my homeland,” Melquiades said. “I have no other.”
A decade has gone by since Armando Scott – who arrived in New York from Panama in 1980 and served in the US Armed Forces for seven years – was deported.
“What hurt the most is that I put my life on the line for that country and they just kicked me out like they kick out trash,” Scott said.
Police arrested him in San Diego for transporting an illegal alien in his car and, heeding his public defender’s advice, he pleaded guilty, which was supposed to just get him a six-month prison sentence.
“As I was leaving, (Immigration) told me, ‘No, you’re coming with me,’” he said, adding that he did not have the money to contest his deportation.
Hector Barajas, the founder of the shelter, returned to the US in April eight years after being deported due to his alleged implication in a shooting, shining a gleam of hope to those still on the wrong side of the border.