Deported Army veteran wins fight for US citizenship

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A deported U.S. Army veteran has been granted U.S. citizenship, a move made possible by California Gov. Jerry Brown's pardon of a criminal offense last year.

Lawyers for Hector Barajas said the government informed them Thursday their client should attend a naturalization ceremony on April 13 in San Diego. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed the decision.

Barajas, 40, is founder and director of Deported Veterans Support House, which provides housing and other services in Tijuana, Mexico. He said Thursday that he believes his advocacy contributed to his victory and that he planned to commute to Tijuana from the Los Angeles area for at least a year to continue his work. He also plans to find a job and go to school in Los Angeles, while supporting his 11-year-old daughter and her mother.

"I still can't believe it," Barajas said by phone from Tijuana. "I'm just excited I'll be able to be home with my family."

Barajas was convicted in 2002 of shooting at an occupied vehicle and served two years in prison. Brown removed a major obstacle to citizenship by pardoning him last year, noting his distinguished military service and advocacy work.

"I always say we make choices that have consequences," Barajas said of his conviction. "I'm not proud of it. Somebody could have been seriously hurt."

Barajas came to the United States from Mexico when he was 7 years old and, after graduating high school, served in the U.S. Army from 1995 to 2001, when he was honorably discharged, according to a federal lawsuit filed in December seeking citizenship.

He was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and received several military accolades.

After completing his prison sentence, he was deported in 2004 to Mexico, lacking fluency in Spanish and struggling to find work, according to the lawsuit. He returned to the United States and was deported again in 2010 after police stopped him for a traffic infraction.

Some military members are entitled to seek citizenship. The American Civil Liberties Union said Barajas is the second deported veteran pardoned by Brown to be allowed to return to the United States. Marine veteran Marco Chavez was pardoned for cruelty to animals and allowed to return in December.