Army veteran deported 14 years ago prepares to return to US

SAN DIEGO -- A U.S. Army veteran is returning home after being deported 14 years ago.

Hector Barajas will be sworn in as a U.S. Citizen on Friday. FOX 5 caught up with him Wednesday as he prepares to cross the border.

Barajas found out last month he would be attending his own naturalization ceremony and has been preparing ever since but says he won’t be packing up and leaving so quickly.

“One of my messages is leaving no man behind and how could I just leave these guys?” Barajas told FOX 5 via Facetime from Tijuana.

A true soldier at heart, Barajas has spent several years putting his passion for serving in the military towards helping other veterans facing the same battle. He created an organization called Deported Veterans Support house in Tijuana.

Born in Mexico, Barajas was brought to the U.S. by his parents at age 7 and grew up in Compton. He always dreamed of putting on a uniform, but after proudly serving in the 82nd Airborne from 1996 until he was honorably discharged in 2001, he found himself struggling to adjust to civilian life. Barajas was convicted of shooting at an occupied vehicle and sentenced to prison, leading to his deportation.

“I’m not very proud of what got me to Tijuana or Mexico but I’m proud of my service and proud of my work and advocacy. I take full responsibility of the things that led to my deportation and I have a second opportunity to go home,” said Barajas.

That second chance came last year when Governor Jerry Brown granted Barajas a full pardon for his crime.

“If I could I'd tell the old Hector, get your citizenship, do the paperwork, be responsible, don’t put yourself in these situations, but I can’t change that. The work I’m doing today is rewarding but I’ve lost out on raising my daughter,” said Barajas. "Now I get to go home in my uniform again. I’m proud of my service regardless of what people say.”

Barajas says after Friday he plans to move back to California, where he plans to open up a foundation and continue his work helping deported veterans around the world. He also plans to raise more awareness and get a program started in the military that would guide non-U.S. citizens serving in the United States Government in the right direction to become naturalized citizens after serving.