A 72-year-old U.S. Army veteran is fighting to be buried in the country he served after he was deported to Mexico in 2009 for a heroin conviction.
Pvt. 1st Class Andres De Leon was 18 when he enlisted to fight in Vietnam. After serving for 12 years, two overseas, he was honorably discharged, a local Fox News affiliate reported.
Mr. De Leon, who had moved with his family to Madera, California legally when he was 12 years old, slipped into a deep depression at age 63 and was arrested for possession of heroin. Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act lists this as a valid reason for deportation and three years into his sentence at Soledad State Prison, ICE told him he wouldn’t be returning home, Raw Story reported.
He now lives in a small, one-bedroom house in Tijuana, Mexico, with other deported veterans.
“I got no choice,” Mr. De Leon told Fox. “I have to stay here but I’m doing the best I can.”
Hector Barajas, a former paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, grew up in Los Angeles but was also deported to Mexico. In 2013, he founded a support house in Tijuana for deported veterans.
“I basically opened up my doors to veterans that were deported,” Mr. Barajas told Fox.
“We believe none of these men should be left behind,” he said. “We talk about supporting the troops, let’s keep supporting these men. Treat these men with honor.”
Mr. De Leon said he may never see America again, but believes he’s still entitled to a proper veteran’s burial.
“I’ve been told the only way I can return is dead. So, if dead is the only way I can return, I would like to be buried with my friends in the Catholic Cemetery in Madera, California,” he told Fox.
Citing privacy concerns, an ICE spokesperson said the organization couldn’t comment on any specific cases, but said immigration judges do take someone’s military service into account when deciding to deport someone, Fox reported.
“Any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an alien with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership,” ICE said in a statement.