This Marine Vet Was Deported To Mexico For 15 Years. Now He's Attending Trump's State Of The Union Address

news
This undated photo provided by Hector Barajas-Varela, director and founder of the Deported Veterans Support House, based in Tijuana, Mexico, shows former U.S. Marine Marco Chavez, who was deported to Mexico 15 years ago after he was convicted of a minor offense
Hector Barajas-Varela/Associated Press

When President Donald Trump looks out over the chamber of the U.S House of Representatives during the State of the Union address Tuesday evening, one of the faces looking back at him will be a man who, until a few weeks ago, could not have stepped foot in the United States, much less travel to the U.S. Capitol to attend the president’s speech.


Marco Chavez defies easy description. He’s the son of Mexican immigrants and grew up in the United States. He served honorably in the Marine Corps. Undocumented, he was deported after serving a prison term for animal cruelty. And, in December, 15 years after his deportation, Chavez was able to return home to the United States after California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him and an immigration judge ruled to restore his U.S. residency.

Chavez will be a guest on Tuesday evening of his congresswoman, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-Calif., a freshman lawmaker who advocates for minorities in her district. Barragán is also a child of Mexican immigrants.

Chavez said his message is not political. He just wants to see others like him get their fair shot.

“Veterans should not be getting deported,” Chavez said. “Anybody picking up a firearm to defend this country shouldn’t be deported.”

But at the culmination of Trump’s first year in office, immigration has become a political lightning rod.

The president insulted Mexicans during his election campaign, calling them rapists and criminals and promising to build a wall between the countries. And he has insisted that immigrants from developing countries have little to offer the United States. He has made immigration reform a pillar of his agenda, promising to change the decision of who gets a visa from the neediest to a merit-based determination.

Barragán believes immigration will be a key theme in Trump’s State of the Union. She said Chavez’ presence should serve as a dual-pronged message to a president who has also pressed for expanding and strengthening the U.S. military.

“I think that certainly the message to this president is that we are a nation of immigrants and immigrants give to this country like so many others,” she said. “And, a lot of them – even Dreamers (children born in the United States to undocumented mothers) -- serve in the military.”

“There’s a whole section of those who are serving that he is dishonoring and the message should be clear,” she added. “People like Marco and our Dreamers who are in the military deserve something better.”

Related: Deported To Mexico, US Veterans Are Pressed Into Service By Drug Cartels »

Chavez is believed to be one of hundreds of U.S. veterans who have served in the armed forces but were later deported after getting into trouble. He was one of three that Brown pardoned in December. Among the others was Hector Barajas-Varela, a former soldier with the 82nd Airborne who founded the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, working to raise awareness for deported veterans. Barajas-Varela is awaiting a judge’s ruling on the status of his case after U.S. Customs and Immigration missed a deadline to answer his petition to return to the United States.

For Chavez, the journey has been grueling. He served four years in the Marine Corps before being honorably discharged. He believed that because of his service, he was automatically a U.S. citizen. When he got into trouble in the late 1990s, he served his time in prison and went about his life again. He thought that period was behind him and he started working and taking care of his family.

But in 2004, after he got into an argument, police were called. The issue was resolved but officer did a check of his background. It turned out that he was not a U.S. citizen and he was deported. By then, he and his wife had three children.

At first, his wife went with him, but the Mexican border town of Tijuana is rough and crime and is high and she returned to the United States with their kids.

Coming home in December, though joyous, has also served as a stark confrontation with the tatters of the life that Chavez didn’t build. At 45, he’s come back to no job or career, no money and no home. He’s staying with his parents until he can get himself sorted.

His children, who are now 17, 20, and 21, have been reluctant to warm to him, he said.

“I am not sure if they blame me, I just know there is a lot of resentment for me not being here,” Chavez said.

Related: T&P;'s Full Coverage Of Deported Veterans »

So he’s working to construct a new life and build a relationship with his family before he moves to Iowa, where his now ex-wife and two of his children are located.

“It’s like coming out of high school with nothing,” he said. “I’ve got to start over. That’s kind of what it’s like. I am getting another start, but a late one.”

Barragán plans not only to bring Chavez to the president’s address, but also to introduce him to as many congressional colleagues as she can. She wants to highlight what she called the injustice of deporting men and women who serve in uniform.

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle don’t realize this is happening,” Barragán said. “They are shocked. The problem is, there is not any action after they learn about it. So the more we can highlight, the better.

“To be able to shine a light on people who served this country and yet the country they are serving is turning their back on their on them, I think it’s important to do,” she said.

———

©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

WATCH NEXT:

The FBI is treating the recent shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a terrorist attack, several media outlets reported on Sunday.

"We work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism," USA Today quoted FBI Agent Rachel Rojas as saying at a news conference.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un risks losing "everything" if he resumes hostility and his country must denuclearize, after the North said it had carried out a "successful test of great significance."

"Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore," Trump said on Twitter, referring to his first summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018.

"He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November," he said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vaughan Dill/Released)

The three sailors whose lives were cut short by a gunman at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday "showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil," said base commander Navy Capt. Tim Kinsella.

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters were killed in the shooting, the Navy has announced.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon has a credibility problem that is the result of the White House's scorched earth policy against any criticism. As a result, all statements from senior leaders are suspect.

We're beyond the point of defense officials being unable to say for certain whether a dog is a good boy or girl. Now we're at the point where the Pentagon has spent three days trying to knock down a Wall Street Journal story about possible deployments to the Middle East, and they've failed to persuade either the press or Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the United States was considering deploying up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to thwart any potential Iranian attacks. The story made clear that President Trump could ultimately decide to send a smaller number of service members, but defense officials have become fixated on the number 14,000 as if it were the only option on the table.

Read More Show Less

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Gen. David Berger, the US Marine Corps commandant, suggested the concerns surrounding a service members' use of questionable Chinese-owned apps like TikTok should be directed against the military's leadership, rather than the individual troops.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday morning, Berger said the younger generation of troops had a "clearer view" of the technology "than most people give them credit for."

"That said, I'd give us a 'C-minus' or a 'D' in educating the force on the threat of even technology," Berger said. "Because they view it as two pieces of gear, 'I don't see what the big deal is.'"

Read More Show Less