SAN DIEGO (CN) — A deported Army veteran who has been living in Tijuana for eight years was granted U.S. citizenship Thursday after a lawsuit asking a federal judge to approve his naturalization application.
Hector Barajas received word from the Department of Homeland Security that he is being granted U.S. citizenship and will be sworn in as a citizen in a few weeks in San Diego.
Barajas was one of three deported veterans who received an Easter pardon from Gov. Jerry Brown last year. After serving nearly six years in the Army, Barajas was honorably discharged in 2001. He was deported after serving two years in prison and nearly a year in detention for shooting at an occupied vehicle.
Since his deportation, Barajas has become an advocate for other deported veterans, founding the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana and working with Congress and local politicians to raise awareness of U.S. service members who have been deported to more than 40 countries.
Barajas filed a lawsuit San Diego last December after the federal government failed to meet its own deadline to process his citizenship application. He passed the English and civics portion of the naturalization requirements in November 2016, and had been awaiting a decision when the lawsuit was filed. The Administrative Procedures Act requires a decision on an application within 120 days.
The lawsuit was dismissed when the government agreed to issue a decision by Thursday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Barajas was represented by ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella and James Erselius with Latham & Watkins.
“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,” Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the ACLU of California, said in a statement.
Erselius said Barajas’ citizenship “gives hope to other veterans like himself who were deported but are still seeking to come home.”
Born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles from the age of seven, Barajas became a legal permanent resident in 1992 and enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. He said he did not apply for naturalization during his military service because Army recruiters misled him into believing he would automatically become a citizen after serving.
Barajas served in the 82nd Airborne Division and received the Army Commendation Medal and Humanitarian Service Medal.
Barajas’ naturalization follows the return of deported Marine veteran Marco Chavez, who also was pardoned by Brown last Easter and received permanent residency status and returned to San Diego in December.