Border Report: Deported Vets and the Challenge of 'Not Clean' Cases - Voice of San Diego

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Border Report: Deported Vets and the Challenge of 'Not Clean' Cases

Jose Segovia Benitez was convicted of multiple crimes after finishing his military service, and is facing deportation. But his supporters argue he deserves to stay in the United States despite the seriousness of his actions.

Jose and Martha Garcia, whose son is a veteran in ICE detention, stand in front of the mural for deported veterans painted on the border fence in Playas de Tijuana. / Photo by Maya Srikrishnan

This weekend in Tijuana, a group of deported veterans and their advocates huddled in an apartment with the family of another veteran, Jose Segovia Benitez. Segovia is currently in an immigration detention center in Adelanto. His immigration case in pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The group was working on a pardon packet to deliver to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Segovia came to the United States as a toddler from El Salvador, and joined the Marine Corps shortly after high school. He had been a green card holder since 1985. In 2002, while he was still in the military, he applied for citizenship. He was honorably discharged in 2004, after serving in Iraq.

He came back a different person, his mother, Martha Garcia, told me. But he wasn’t diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until 2011.

“He was trained to fight and kill,” his father, Jose Garcia, said. “He came back with PTSD, with a brain injury.”

Segovia was convicted of several crimes, including drug possession and domestic violence, after he returned. Upon serving his latest sentence, he was transferred to ICE custody from a California state prison in 2018.

“He wasn’t the same,” Martha Garcia said. “This isn’t what veterans need. They need help. They don’t need to be incarcerated. They need to be in a place where they’re getting help.”

A 2016 ACLU report identified 239 deported veterans in at least 34 countries around the world. The report noted that most of the veterans deported in recent years have been lawful permanent residents who were convicted of criminal offenses after returning to civilian life. Nearly all were eligible for citizenship, though some did not apply because they believed it would happen automatically with their military service. Others applied, but their cases “were lost in an unwieldy mass of red tape,” according to the report. A recent government oversight report found that in many cases, immigration officials had not followed the special protocols required to deport veterans.

WBEZ Chicago recently documented the stories of several deported veterans in Tijuana.

Brandee Dudzic, who’s also a veteran, stumbled upon the Deported Veterans House in Tijuana while crossing the border in December with a group aiding asylum-seekers in the city. Since then, she’s founded Repatriate Our Patriots and has been working to bring home deported veterans in Juarez and Tijuana.

After leaving the Deported Veterans House that day in December, she said, “something inside of me was red-hot angry.”

Brandee Dudzic, founder of Repatriate our Patriots, and Edwin Salgado, a deported Marine Corps veteran, work on a pardon packet for Jose Segovia, a veteran in ICE detention. / Photo by Maya Srikrishnan

Dudzic organized this weekend’s gathering to work on Segovia’s pardon paperwork. They posted a timeline of Segovia’s life on a wall. They spoke with his family, employers and friends, who confirmed that Segovia was a different person when he returned from combat than before he left. They meticulously tracked his treatment in ICE detention and the systemic failures in both the VA and immigration systems that they say not only led Segovia to ICE detention, but are also exacerbating his PTSD, brain injuries and other health issues resulting from his military service.

For example, the VA recently downgraded Segovia from a 70 percent disability to zero because he hadn’t attended his appointments while incarcerated. The VA wasn’t allowed into ICE detention either, Dudzic said.

Miguel, a deported veteran who declined to provide his full name, said the process has been difficult for deported veterans who advocate for Segovia and others. It has required them to re-live their own traumas from war and from deportation.

“Talking to Jose and going through all this for the pardon packet in the past few days, it’s sparked something,” he said.

But he and other deported veterans say it’s something they have to do, so people realize what they’ve been through — serving their country and then being deported for crimes often related to the PTSD they sustained from combat.

Dudzic said Segovia’s case has been difficult to get in front of elected officials, likely because of the nature of his domestic violence convictions — grave crimes that should be taken seriously.

“People often want these cases to be clean to advocate for them, but what Jose and so many other veterans have gone through — it’s not clean,” she said.

But the nature of the conviction in these cases shouldn’t be the sole consideration when it comes to allowing someone back into the United States, she said. Many other veterans who committed crimes while struggling with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities from their time in combat aren’t at risk of being kicked out of the country after they serve their sentence.

Last year, the AP identified more than 40 immigrants who had enlisted through a special program that offers a path to citizenship, only to be quietly discharged and thus unable to naturalize. Since the end of 2018, immigration officials have been denying military service member applications for citizenship at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts, Pacific Standard reported.

“It really doesn’t matter what the conviction is,” Dudzic said. “There was a window of time during their military service where they could have been naturalized and the U.S. government dropped the ball.”

  • The Union-Tribune profiles another deported veteran whose case stands out because his deportation was not the result of a criminal conviction.

Another Day, Another Explosive Asylum Proposal

Spotlight on African Asylum-Seekers

The numbers of asylum-seekers from Africa traveling through Mexico to reach the United States has been increasing, Reuters reports.

Asylum-seekers from Cameroon protested the unofficial “list” that determines who can request asylum at the port of entry in Tijuana last week, KPBS reports.

The Cameroonians said Mexican authorities have been refusing to accept migrants from Africa for transport to the U.S. side of the border, where they can officially request asylum. They said days have gone by without Mexican officials calling any numbers the “list,” but Central American asylum-seekers have been granted entry to the U.S. on those days.

The protest occurred amid a record-number of people waiting in line in Tijuana to seek asylum, the Union-Tribune reports. The line of asylum-seekers is even longer than when the roughly 6,000-person caravan arrived in November 2018.

One asylum-seeker told KPBS that Central Americans have been paying bribes to the immigration officers.

After an hour-long meeting, KPBS reports, the asylum-seekers and Mexican officials emerged with a “deal” that the African asylum-seekers would be able to verify the unofficial list each morning to make sure the correct numbers were being called.

There have been increasing numbers of African asylum-seekers coming to Tijuana and other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum.

In May, we reported on the conditions facing Eritreans and other African asylum-seekers in Tijuana. who face incredibly long waits to request asylum in the United States but for whom there’s far less of a support structure, compared with migrants from Central America.

Border Patrol Coin Mocks Care for Children

An unofficial commemorative coin has been circulating among Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border mocking the task of caring for migrant children and other duties that have fallen to agents as families cross into the U.S., ProPublica reports. The front of the coin says “KEEP THE CARAVANS COMING” under an image of a massive parade of people carrying a Honduran flag — a caricature of the “caravan” from last fall.

The Intercept confirmed previous reports of a Border Patrol Facebook group with vulgar, violent and misogynistic content about migrants and lawmakers.

The Real Impact of ICE Raids

ICE raids announced by President Donald Trump failed to materialize. Twenty people were arrested in San Diego recently in a week-long enforcement operation, which ICE insists is not part of the broader arrests that have been announced, the U-T reports. But the fear — rather than the arrests themselves — is the point. (NPR, Los Angeles Times)

The Union-Tribune profiled a neighborhood group that patrols immigrant neighborhoods to keep an eye out for ICE.

More Border News

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