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ACLU asks federal court to hold naturalization hearing for deported Southern California veteran

A deported U.S. Army veteran from Los Angeles may get another chance to return to the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union is petitioning the U.S. District Court to hold a naturalization hearing for Hector Barajas, who was born in Mexico, lived in Compton and served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division before being honorably discharged.
Barajas, 40, was deported in 2010 after he spent time in prison for shooting at a vehicle. Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him in 2017, but Barajas still hasn’t been allowed to return to the United States.
“I have devoted my life to the United States and its veterans. All I want is to be home with my family and my daughter,” said Barajas, “The most important thing is family.”
He said coming back to the U.S. would allow him to go to school and pursue a career.
“Get a fresh start,” he said.
The petition against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was filed Tuesday, Dec. 12 , by the law firm Latham & Watkins, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
Barajas is eligible to naturalize as a U.S. citizen due to his honorable service, according to the petition. He filed a naturalization application in March 2016 and interviewed with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer in November 2016, the petition said. He passed the required English and civics portions of the exam, but the federal immigration agency has not issued a decision on his application.
That decision was supposed to be issued within 120 days, a deadline that has passed, the ACLU said.
The petition asks the U.S. District Court to take over the matter and conduct a naturalization hearing for Barajas.
Veterans who are not U.S. citizens can be deported for criminal convictions. Some veterans are not fully aware of the process they need to go through to become citizens after serving in the military. A common assumption is that citizenship is automatic.
There are at least 239 deported veterans from about 34 countries , according to a July 2016 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
Other estimates put the number of deported veterans at about 1,400.
Barajas became a lawful permanent U.S. resident in 1992. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the army in 1995 and could have applied for naturalization, but he thought honorable service in the military automatically made him a citizen, the ACLU said.
Barajas, who is well-known in the deported veteran community, is now in Tijuana where he founded the Deported Veterans Support House in 2013. It houses veterans and helps them apply for benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
His organization advocates for legislation prohibiting the deportation of U.S. veterans, but, while the issue persists, it seeks to improve the well-being of veterans not only in Tijuana but in other countries where they are deported.
In early October, he welcomed a congressional delegation led by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, that aimed to highlight specific needs of deported veterans.
The support house also helps nonveteran deportees like  60-year-old Osvelia Maldonado-Gomez, a Rancho Cucamonga woman who was recently deported to Tijuana . She stayed at the support house while she waited for her family.
Barajas said being in the U.S. would allow him to further share the story of deported vets.
“I think I’m going to be able to open up more doors … and continue to do this work,” he said.
Jennie Pasquarella, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement said Barajas deserves to be back in the U.S.
“Hector Barajas is a model citizen, who is not only legally entitled to naturalize as a U.S. citizen but has earned respect and admiration for his tireless leadership and service worldwide,” her statement said. “It is time for Hector to come home.”
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