Deported veterans trying to cope and celebrate holiday

SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Veterans Day is bittersweet for Luis Guillen.

He served in the United States Marine Corps but was deported 16 years ago after being held in a California prison for drug use.

Guillen is one of the hundreds of deported U.S. military veterans living south of the border in cities such as Tijuana, wondering when they’ll be able to return home.

And like Guillen, many of these vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues but don’t have access to care.

“I have PTSD but can’t get help for that anywhere around here,” he said.

When he first arrived in Mexico all those years ago, he bounced around trying to find a home and a place to work.

Luis Guillen is U.S. Marine deported to Mexico 17 years ago. (Jorge Nieto/Special for Border Report)

For the last few years, Guillen has been working at a transmission repair shop in Tijuana.

He told Border Report he barely makes ends meet with his mechanic’s salary, and laments that his V.A. benefits were taken away.

“I don’t make enough to fix my teeth,” said Guillen. “If I was over there, north of the border, all I would have to do is make an appointment, here I can’t do that.”

Guillen holds out hope that he will be allowed to go back to the U.S., where he could celebrate Veterans Day along with the ones with whom he served.

“It’s still a source of pride,” he said.

In 2006, the U.S. deported Hector Lopez, an Army veteran who now lives in Tijuana.

“How do you deport someone you sent to war to kill in the name of the United States?” said Lopez. “I’m a veteran of the United States armed forces, you can’t take that away.”

Hector Lopez is a deported U.S. Army Veteran living in Tijuana. (Jorge Nieto/Special for Border Report)

Lopez remembers vividly the day he was deported.

“I was getting released from custody,” he said. “I told my son and daughter I was on my way home. I never got there. That was more than 16 years ago.”

Instead, Lopez ended up in Tijuana, a city he didn’t know and had never visited.

“We keep celebrating Veterans Day, honoring fellow vets, but we can’t be in our houses with our families celebrating. It’s a day we would normally get together and barbecue, be with family,” Lopez said.

Both Lopez and Guillen hope they will be allowed back in the U.S. soon so they can be in what they consider to be their home country.

On Friday, as they bemoaned not being able to see their families, a small group of U.S. vets slowly walked up the northbound lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to pay tribute to deported vets like Lopez and Guillen.

The group, led by Hector Barajas, who was also forced to spend years in Mexico after being deported but now lives in Southern California, said people can’t forget those who are still hoping to come home.

“We’re asking President Biden to bring all these guys home, not just a few, but all of them,” said Barajas. “Most of them don’t have benefits, these are benefits they earned when they put on the uniform and served the United States, they need our support.