Private First Class Andres De Leon, 72, had signed up for the U.S. Army when he turned 18.
He fought in the military for two years, and was honorably discharged. Today, as a result of many things he witnessed and experienced during his service, he suffers from depression.
That depression led to him actually being deported, in spite of being in the United States for 50 years, and having served honorably in the military.
De Leon moved to Madera, California with his family when he was only 12-years-old. He moved here legally. His family followed all the rules and did everything the “right” way that they were told to.
But he was still deported because he slipped into heroin use, to medicate his depression.
After he was eventually arrested for possession of the drug, he was fingered for deportation. That’s because Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) says that this is legitimate reason for deportation.
He was already spending years behind bars for possession, at Soledad State Prison. Three years into the sentence, he was deported.
An immigration judge ordered De Leon to return to Mexico, in 2009.
But he had no connections there. He quickly became homeless and forced to live on the streets of Tijuana.
“I got no choice,” he said a local TV station Fox40 in the U.S. “I have to stay here but I’m doing the best I can.”
Back in Mexico, he met Hector Barajas, a former paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. Barajas told De Leon that he was in the same shoes, and that he personally knew dozens more just like the two of them, who had been deported back to Mexico for almost the same reasons.
“We believe none of these men should be left behind,” he explained. “We talk about supporting the troops, let’s keep supporting these men. Treat these men with honor.”
Today, one in six veterans who have recently been part of the “War on Terror” are addicted to illegal substances.
“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,” De Leon continued.
“Why would they honor us only when we die? They’re going to give an American flag to our families and say, ‘Thank you for your service to your country,’” Barajas concluded. “If you want to honor our men, let them get their treatment. Let them live with their families.”
(Article by M. David and Jackson Marciana)