SAN DIEGO (CN) – A decorated U.S. veteran who was deported to Mexico after committing a crime for which he has been pardoned by California Gov. Jerry Brown asked a federal judge Tuesday to approve his naturalization application since the government has failed to meet its own deadline in processing his application.
Hector Barajas, 40, an Army specialist who founded the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2010, received a pardon of his conviction for shooting at an occupied motor vehicle. Only individuals who have lived crime-free for over a decade can qualify for a pardon, which Brown granted this past Easter.
Barajas completed his naturalization application in November 2016 after passing the required English and civics portions of the exam, but a decision on the application by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not been issued. The Administrative Procedures Act requires a decision on applications within 120 days, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Latham & Watkins, which are representing Barajas in court.
The deadline to make a decision on Barajas’ naturalization application passed on March 18, and his attorneys have contacted Citizenship and Immigration Services four times seeking a response. But a decision was never made, prompting Barajas to request a federal judge in the Southern District of California to make a determination on his application.
Jennie Pasquarella, ACLU of Southern California senior staff attorney and director of immigrants’ rights, said the delay in processing Barajas’ application is “inexplicable and unfair.”
“Hector Barajas is a model citizen who is not only legally entitled to naturalize as a U.S. citizen but has earned respect and admiration for his tireless leadership and service worldwide. It is time for Hector to come home,” Pasquarella said in a statement.
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 in 1995, after graduating from high school. He served nearly six years as a specialist in the 82nd Airborne Division, receiving an honorable discharge from the Army in 2001 in addition to multiple awards including commendation, good conduct and achievement medals.
Barajas says he didn’t apply for naturalization at the start of his military career because Army recruiters misled him into believing he would automatically become a citizen after serving in the military, something former California assemblyman Nathan Fletcher has been working to change.
Since being deported, Barajas founded the Deported Veterans Support House, which provides housing and social and legal services for other deported veterans. He is a well-known advocate for noncitizen veterans who are deported or face deportation, and has gained support from members of Congress, according to his petition.
“Despite my deportation, I have never stopped feeling in my heart that I am American,” Barajas said in a statement.
“I have devoted my life to the United States and its veterans. All I want is to be home with my family and my daughter. I have been waiting for a year and a half for resolution of my naturalization application and am hopeful that this lawsuit will propel a swift decision.”