April 15 (UPI) — A U.S. military veteran who was deported to Mexico in 2004 became a U.S. citizen on Friday during a ceremony in San Diego.
Hector Barajas, 41, became a proponent of veterans who had been deported from the United States and in 2013 founded the Deported Veterans Support House, an organization that helps deported veterans gain their footing in Mexico. His work caught the attention of California Gov. Jerry Brown, who pardoned him last year for the crime that got him deported — shooting at a car — for which he had already served three years in prison.
After the pardon, Barajas applied for citizenship and was approved in March.
“The citizenship only validates what I always thought in my heart: I’m an all-American patriot and I proudly served my adopted country as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne,” Barajas said after his naturalization ceremony, the Times of San Diego reported. “I believe I am no less of an American because of the mistakes I’ve made.”
Barajas came to the United States in 1984 when he was seven-years-old and grew up in Compton, Calif. In 1995, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged after serving for six years. He said he began the process to obtain citizenship in the late 90s, but didnn’t follow through with it at the time
After leaving the Army, Barajas battled substance abuse and got into other trouble, as well, leading to his guilty plea of shooting at a vehicle in 2002. He was sentenced to three years in prison and, upon his release, was deported to Mexico in 2004.
Finding it difficult to adjust to life in Mexico, Barajas illegally returned to the United States and was deported again in 2010. This time, he stayed in Tijuana and helped other veteran deportees like himself adjust to their new lives in Mexico.
But now, Barajas is returning to his home country, the United States.
“I believe in this country,” Barajas said his naturalization ceremony, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I believe we can make things right.”