Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told U.S. Army veteran Hector Barajas, who was deported to Mexico, that he wanted him back in the country during a conversation between the two at the U.S.-Mexico border on May 21 (video below).
"Thank you for very much for your service to our country, and we would like you on this side of the fence," Sanders, standing on the U.S. side of the fence, told the former paratrooper on the Mexico side, according to a video posted to Facebook.
Barajas' parents brought him to the U.S. when he was seven, CNN reported in April. He got a green card and enlisted in the military to become a citizen. He served from 1995 to 2001, but that didn't result in citizenship.
"I was under the assumption that ... I took the oath and that I'm a U.S. citizen," Barajas told CNN.
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"You're 18-years-old and hey, Uncle Sam's going to take care of you," Barajas added, under the assumption the army would prepare him for naturalization. "Citizenship was never mentioned. I was never counseled, there was no program for it."
The U.S. military does have a process for citizenship, but veterans have to seek the proper assistance.
After being honorably discharged, Barajas returned to Los Angeles where he had substance abuse issues and was arrested for firing a gun from a car. There were no injuries, but Barajas was charged with assault.
Barajas went to jail for two years after he pleaded guilty to illegal discharge of a firearm. Upon his release from jail, he was deported to Mexico, leaving his daughter in the U.S.
Barajas operates the Deported Veterans Support House, a group in Mexico helping vets who have been deported, CNN reports.
After speaking to Barajas through the fence, Sanders went to Friendship Park in San Diego, where families on the U.S. side can meet with their deported family members for a few hours on weekends,ThinkProgress reports.
Sanders told reporters that visiting the families helped him understand “why we need comprehensive immigration reform," and “why we need to have [an] immigration policy designed to unite families” instead of dividing them.