Former Paratrooper travels to the Caribbean to fight for deported U.S. veterans

Matt Saintsing
June 15, 2018 - 6:07 pm

Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

Categories: 

A previously deported U.S. Army veteran will travel to the Dominican Republic this week to visit "dozens" of other deported veterans living in the Caribbean nation. 

Hector Barajas-Varela, who became a United States citizen earlier this year, and a team of four other advocates will fly to Santo Domingo on Tuesday to bring computers, printers, and other equipment that will connect the veterans with resources and family back home. It will be their first trip visiting with deported American veterans outside of Mexico. 

“One of the biggest things is to remind them that they’re not forgotten,” Barajas-Varela told Connecting Vets. “In Mexico, we’re getting a lot of visits at the different bunkers we have, in Juarez and in the valley near Texas, but it’s very rare that these guys are ever getting visited, it should be a good morale booster.”

Barajas-Varela's' team seeks to connect the veterans with, legal services, and help them with filing VA claims, but it'll also be a chance for them a to see just how many veterans are deported to the Dominican Republic. He's expecting dozens, but the number of deported veterans there could be as high as several hundred. 

“A lot of deported veterans are Vietnam-era veterans, so a lot of these guys don’t use Facebook or twitter and it’s hard to find out how many there are," says Barajas. 

He was born in Mexico, but he grew up in Los Angeles, Calif. Barajas-Varela became a permanent resident in 1992, and was given a green-card. In 1995, he joined the Army as a vehicle mechanic and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was honorably discharged in 2001. His legal residency was lost after he was convicted of shooting at an occupied vehicle in L.A. 

There were no injuries, but Barajas-Varela spent 13 months in prison and another month on parole.

In 2004, he was deported to Mexico, and lived in a Tijuana shelter that he transformed into a harbor for other individuals like him: American veterans who were deported following criminal convictions. He could have applied for U.S. citizenship before he left the Army, but had mistakenly believed that serving in the military automatically granted it. 

At the end of April, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) pardoned Barajas for the crime that led to his deportation, which provided a pathway for his citizenship. 

Since 2013, the Deported Veterans Support House, or "bunker" as its known, has served 20 people. The Support House provides legal and other services to deportees adjusting to their new surroundings and life outside the United States. 

Barajas-Varela said the Bunker has made contact with hundreds of deported veterans in 42 countries. 

Despite gaining citizenship, Barajas-Varela said he plans on splitting time between Los Angeles and Mexico for another year to continue his work supporting deported vets. 

"I just want to leave something in place for someone else to pick up the work," he added. "Leaving some kind of structure in place so it can continue no matter how much involvement I have with it in the future." 

"That's something we were taught in the military," said Barajs-Varela.  

   Contact us about this article, or share your story at GetHelp@ConnectingVets.com