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Deported Veterans

Cover image for podcast episode

Children hold signs at a news conference for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, July 6, 2016.

NICHOLAS MCVICKER

Veterans who commit crimes are often deported if they don’t have US citizenship. Many are now looking at the Biden administration for a chance to return. Meanwhile, a new analysis finds the recall election aimed at Governor Gavin Newsom will cost California counties $215 million. Plus, the problem with gun restraining orders is a lot of people, even police, don't understand them and don't know how to use them.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday June 14th.

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what change would look like for deported veterans

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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It's official: Most of California's coronavirus rules governing public gatherings will disappear on Tuesday. Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on Friday afternoon that will end the stay-at-home orders and its various amendments. This comes as roughly 70% of adults across the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Starting Tuesday there’s no more capacity limits, physical distancing requirements, and people who are fully vaccinated can forget the face mask.

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And ... a "Back Together San Diego County" celebration of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions will be held tomorrow morning at the county administration center. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher will be hosting the celebration bright and early at 6:30amThere will be live music, free breakfast snacks and refreshments, and a ribbon cutting ceremony.

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Remember the mystery boom last tuesday? The “sky-quake.” Happened around 8pm ish tuesday night--big loud boom shook the whole county and tijuana. If you guessed that it was military aircraft, you might just be right. MCAS Mirmar says they did indeed have two aircraft out training at that time about 30 miles southwest of San Diego, over the pacific ocean. They also say while they can’t account for every skyquake, that one might’ve been on them.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Over the past several decades, hundreds or perhaps thousands of U.S. military veterans have been deported for committing crimes after they left the service. Now, many are looking to the Biden Administration, hoping for the chance to finally return to the United States. KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says some vets have waited for years. For others, their time has run out.

Jose’ Velasco came to the US from Mexico as a child. As a green card holder, he was drafted during the Vietnam War era. Charged with assault with a deadly weapon and deported three years ago – at age 76, he's now living in Tijuana.
“I never even knew Tijuana. I didn’t have anyone here. So that’s what happened. I’m still here. I felt like the sky was coming down on me. Bad.”
Velasco is one of the former US service members who are trying to get back to the country where they served and lived most of their lives. His health declining - he’s waiting for back surgery for an injury he says is most likely related to his service. He knows the clock is ticking.
“We have two flags over here.”
Hector Barajas runs the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana - a place nicknamed the Bunker.
“One of them was flown over the Capital when we had a congressional visit. We’ve had a couple congressional visits.”
Barajas was deported himself, but was able to become a citizen after he was pardoned by the governor of California. Like many people, he started the citizenship process while he was still in the Army during the first Gulf War, but didn’t finish.
“Immigration never came up, not even from my squad leaders.”
Military service can be a fast track to citizenship, especially during wartime. But some people were incorrectly told they automatically become US citizens when they take the military oath. Others lost track of the process as they moved around. Barajas says the system has been broken for years, but things became particularly difficult under the Trump administration.
“It takes longer to become a citizen when you're in the military. It’s actually easier to file for your citizenship once you leave the military.”
Richard Avila has been in Tijuana for a decade, after being deported because of a felony immigration charge. He came to the US as a child and volunteered to join the Marines at the tail end of the Vietnam era. He speaks Spanish with a thick American accent that draws unwanted attention in Mexico.
“The word is pocho, like I said. It’s a derogatory term, meaning you’re raised in America, you’re Mexican raised in America. Kind of like a traitor, right, because you're Mexican raised in the US.”
Advocates are asking the Biden administration to reverse policies that make it harder for troops to apply for citizenship - And reinstate a program that walks them through the process before they leave bootcamp. Jennie Pasquarella with the ACLU of Southern California also wants a moratorium on deporting veterans. And for those already deported:
“Create a pathway so they can return home. I think that’s where the administration could adopt a policy or a process that would allow for a revisiting of those cases, reopening their immigration cases.”
For some, any change has already come too late. Norma Apodaca remembers telling her mother that time had run out for her brother, a former Marine.
“Mama, Meho’s dead…..I said don’t let it hit you right now. Let’s get in the car.”
Erasmo Apodaca died of a heart attack in Mexico, while waiting to return to the US for a second immigration hearing. He fought his deportation for more than a decade, only to die less than two months before his case would be heard.
“We never imagined that he would be deported as a veteran to Mexico, without being able to return to where we were all at. My parents. My brothers, we’re all here in the United States.”
All of the veterans caught in this cycle have felonies on their record. Still, Norma says, they served.
“These people made mistakes. They paid the price. They need to be given an opportunity..not by getting rid of them. Sending them, saying here, you’re someone else's problem.”
Though at the moment, little has changed.

That was KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh. This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

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California has over a billion dollars in aid to give out to struggling renters and landlords. But so far, a little less than three percent of that money has actually gone out. And, far fewer people have applied to the state program than expected. As KQED’s Erin Baldassari explains, the state has made some changes to get more money out more quickly.

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The recall election against Governor Gavin Newsom will cost California counties $215 million, according to a new analysis from the state Department of Finance. KQED politics reporter Guy Marzorati has more.

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Coming up.... The problem with gun restraining orders is a lot of people, even police, don't understand them and don't know how to use them. We’ll have that story next, just after the break.

It’s been more than two weeks since a gunman in San Jose killed 9 people in a railyard. Shortly after the shooting, officials started talking about “red flag laws,” asking if they might have prevented the shooting from happening. KQED’s Adhiti Bandlamudi reports from San Jose.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.