Editor’s Note: This past weekend, many people across the U.S. observed Memorial Day, and yet there is a group of veterans that are being ignored by this country: those who have served the U.S. proudly, only to be deported. I recently had the chance to meet with Mar Cárdenas Loutzenhiser* and Hector Barajas in Tijuana, Mexico, as part of a Border Trips delegation with the UU Justice Ministry. To learn more about the border first-hand yourself, check out upcoming trips with the UU Justice Ministry of California for trips to the California/Mexico border, and the UU College of Social Justice for trips to the Arizona/Mexico border. In addition, there have been a ton of great media articles on the Deported Veterans Support House. I encourage you to check out these resources, including this short film from the Arizona State University Student Veterans Association, this short documentary from VICE News, and this multimedia report from Al-Jazeera. -- Jennifer Toth Clary
My name is Mar Cárdenas Loutzenhiser*, and I am a dedicated Unitarian Universalist, helping to bring the Del Lado del Amor campaign to Mexico. One of our partner organizations is the Deported Vets Support House, better known as “The Bunker”. Two years ago, my husband Gary and I found out that since 1996, the US Government has been deporting veterans who joined the Armed Forces as legal permanent residents, served their country proudly, and received honorable discharges. Veterans who have been deported served in wars such as Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Iraq & Afghanistan, and served in both combat and peacetime.
*Learn more about Mar and how she discovered Unitarian Universalism and how her activist work began here!
In most of the cases I know, the vets got in trouble after being discharged because they had severe PTSD and made the mistake of using drugs and alcohol to alleviate the pain while waiting for the VA to give them the medical care they needed.
Some were deported for traffic violations, drug-related charges, or in one case, for trying to cash a bad check given to the vet by his civilian employer. They all served the time and paid their fines, but were punished again by taking away from them everything they own and had worked for their entire lives. As it stands, the only way the US will ever welcome them back will be after they die. Because of their military service, they are eligible to be buried in a national cemetery.
My good friend Hector Barajas, the founder of the Bunker, served with the 82nd Airborne and was deported in 2004. He has made it his mission to identify as many of these deported vets and work together to help bring them home, get them treated for their war-related injuries and the benefits they earned.
Hector shares: "If deported vets are allowed to be buried as US veterans, we should be allowed to live with our families in the US while we're still alive. As the Marines say, No man left behind! Separating families is not an American value.
I have come into contact with over 100 veterans who have been deported to over 22 countries of origin around the world. All of these veterans had legal residency status, they have the right to receive VA benefits and had strong ties to the U.S. prior to deportation. They have been forced to leave behind children, spouses, parents, and siblings as well as firmly established lives in the United States.”
The Mission Statement of the Deported Veterans Support House is to support deported veterans on their path to self-sufficiency by providing assistance in the realms of food, clothing, and shelter as they adjust to life in their new country of residence. Ultimately, we hope to see an end to the need of our services as we advocate for political legislation which would prohibit the deportation of United States service personnel, both former and current.
The Bunker aspires to provide hope, to build confidence, and foster independence among the deported veteran population in Tijuana. It has an open door policy. Anyone at any time is welcome and encouraged to visit, or to stay with them.
Together, at the Deported Veterans Support House, we work in coalition with Centro GaryMar, Border Angels and Dreamers’ Moms Tijuana. To learn more about our partners, and how you can support the important work we do on a daily basis to recognize the human worth and dignity of everyone, please click on the links below!
Mar and Hector
Mar Cárdenas Loutzenhiser is a member of First Unitarian San Diego, and helped found the Chula Vista campus of that congregation. She is also one of the co-founders (along with her husband Gary) of the Centro GaryMar in Tijuana, Mexico. One of the many projects of Centro GaryMar are BorderTrips offered to UUs and friends, in conjunction with the UU Justice Ministry of California.
Hector Barajas served with the 82Airborne of the US Army. He helped co-found the Deported Veterans Support House. Because of his deportation, Hector has been torn away from his family, and is unable to see his daughter on a regular basis.