After fourteen years, a deported U.S. Army veteran will return home to the country he served.
Hector Barajas was granted U.S. citizenship Thursday after he was deported to Mexico in 2004 following a prison sentence for a shooting. California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Barajas, a undocumented veterans’ advocate, last April in efforts to help his case, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“Oh my God, this is great. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!,” an emotional Barajas said on Thursday, according to Task & Purpose.
“Finally, after years of fighting for the rights of deported veterans to return to the U.S., Hector will be able to return home as an American citizen,” Jennie Pasquarella of the American Civil Liberties Union said on Thursday.
Compton-raised Barajas joined the military after graduating high-school in 1995 and served until 2001, when he was honorably discharged. In 2002, he was sentenced to two years in prison for shooting at an occupied car, Task & Purpose reported. The government revoked his green card, and Barajas was deported to Mexico in 2004.
“I made bad decisions,” Barajas told The San Diego Union-Tribune last year. “I put myself in that situation... I wouldn’t put myself in that situation again.”
Since his deportation, Barajas has dedicated his life to helping other non-citizen military veterans. He founded the Tijuana-based Deported Veterans Support House in 2010, according to the Union-Tribune. Barajas founded the support home to provide support to fellow undocumented veterans and rally lawmakers to provide a pathway to citizenship.
Barajas told The San Diego Union Tribune he met former California State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher through his activism, who has raised awareness about Barajas’s case.
In 2016, Barajas applied for U.S. citizenship, passing English and civic parts of the naturalization exams. He sued the government in December for failing to process his application on time, according to Courthouse News. The lawsuit thrown out on Thursday after the Department of Homeland Security approved his application.
On Thursday, Fletcher celebrated with Barajas, tweeting, “"This moment! The time you get to tell a #deportedvet that he gets to come home to the nation he was willing to give his life defending!! Hector Barajas has been granted his citizenship!!! “
In a video posted to his organization’s Twitter account, Barajas called his mother to tell her he was coming home. “I love you, mom,” Barajas said outside of the Bunker, a nickname name for the veterans home.
According to CNN, Barajas will officially become a citizen in April. He will return to the Los Angeles area and be reunited with his 11-year-old daughter Liliana.
Correction: This article previously said Barajas was dishonorably discharged. We regret the error.