LULAC Honors America’s Veterans





Nation’s Oldest and Largest Latino Civil Rights Organization Pays Tribute to Freedom’s Protectors





BY DAVID CRUZ


Washington, DC – The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) joins the nation in honoring all the men and women who have served in our armed forces to protect the freedoms of our Republic and the principles of our democracy which generations of Americans have enjoyed since our founding.


“There are more than 18.2 million men and women alive today in our country who have stepped out of the ordinary lives we all have, joined our military and done extraordinary things on behalf of all us,” says Domingo Garcia, National President. “Also, we stop in solemn remembrance of the more than 1.3 million Americans who have lost their lives in all military conflicts our nation has experienced since we were established because they too are an important part of our history,” he added.


“America is grateful to the more than nine million veterans who receive care and services every year through the Department of Veterans Affairs,” says Sindy Benavides, National Chief Executive Officer. “We know that nothing can fully repay the sacrifices they and their families have made in protection of our freedoms that keep the United States of America the brightest example of democracy on earth,” she stated.


Each veteran has his or her own unique experience to commemorate every year at this time. Former Special Forces combat soldier Miguel Perez-Montes is living this Veterans Day for the first time in his life as a U.S. Citizen. Yet, instead of being at home with family and loved ones in Chicago, Illinois, he is spending it on the road at the border in Tijuana, Mexico.


Miguel says he is there to “bunker with deported veterans,” others who like him, have experienced great hardship following service as soldiers for their country. It is a life he knows all too well after the many months he spent when he could only look north across the border at the land he knew as home.


Miguel served seven-and-a-half years in prison for a non-violent drug crime after returning from two tours in Afghanistan. It is a mistake he admits and attributes in part to the scars of PTSD and lack of access to medical resources he needed. Yet, on the very day he was being released in 2016 after serving his sentence, the Army veteran was met by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who would hold him another one-and-a-half years.


Then in spring of 2018, he was thrust back into Mexico without being allowed to say goodbye to his family and returned to the country he left at the age of eight in 1989 when he was brought to the U.S. legally as a permanent resident. Tijuana became his place of existence as he fought to regain the privilege of returning to the country he had defended as a soldier.


At that point, Miguel joined the ranks of deported veterans in constant danger, a group who some criminal groups in Mexico often see as easy prey and targets for recruitment into their illicit activity. That is what happened to veterans like Jose Lopez who was killed in Chihuahua. Advocates for deported veterans say ex-soldiers are pressed into crime with the choice, “plata or plomo” (silver or lead).


For Miguel Perez, time was not in his favor after years of incarceration and then, the sudden forced removal from the U.S. However, a groundswell of community support and advocacy by many organizations including LULAC placed a spotlight on Miguel’s plight and that of countless other Latino veterans who have been deported. In September, 2019 an act of clemency by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker allowed him to return for a citizenship hearing. On Friday, October 4, 2019, Miguel took the oath of citizenship and officially became a U.S. citizen.


Today, he shares a few words about his experience:


“‘Estoy muy feliz!’ (I am very happy.) My battle is over and it should never have happened. This is not an excuse but at the time, I was suffering from anxiety after coming back from the war. There were not enough resources for help and I fell into drinking and drugs.


Still, they (U.S. government) can say they did it all right but morally it is not right to deport veterans. When you swear to protect this country and you commit mistakes and serve the penalty in full, it is not right to run you off from the country for 20 to 30 years.


It should be automatic for a soldier to become a U.S. citizen and have protections from being deported from here forward. The law must be changed.


This experience changed my life. I learned a lot from all the pain and the injustice but I am not alone. This is an epidemic that is happening to U.S. veterans from all around the world and it’s wrong. They took me away from my whole family and just threw me away. Everything in my life was upset.


To all the veterans, don’t fear. Keep going. We were soldiers and will always be soldiers. All this will end. There will be a positive outcome. Stay strong.”