This Veteran Didn’t Get Help For His Depression–He Got Deported

Andres De Leon in his Tijuana apartment (screengrab from KTXL, courtesy The Washington Times)
Andres De Leon in his Tijuana apartment (screengrab from KTXL, courtesy The Washington Times)

When Vietnam veteran Andres De Leon lost his mother, it sent him into a severe depression–so severe, in fact, that he turned to drugs to relieve the emotional pain. That habit ultimately sent him to prison. You would have that it would have been a chance for him to get him the help he needed. Well, you thought wrong. It got him deported back to Mexico, even though he had spent nearly his entire life in the United States.

De Leon was born in Tijuana, but his family legally moved to Madera, California when he was 12 years old. When he was 18, he began what would be a 12-year career in the Army, including two years spent fighting in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged in 1975 as a private first class. However, his sister, Elizabeth, told KTXL in Sacramento that things rapidly went downhill after their mother died. Elizabeth recalled that Andres and their mother were very close, and her death “really pushed him to the edge.”

De Leon plunged into a deep depression, and by his 60s, he was addicted to heroin. He was eventually convicted of heroin possession. Three years into his sentence at Soledad State Prison, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement visited his cell and dropped a bombshell–he wasn’t going home to Madera upon release. Instead, the federal government was seeking to have him deported. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, drug-related offenses can be grounds for deportation.

In October 2009, an immigration judge ordered De Leon deported to Mexico. Never mind that he is an honorably discharged veteran, or that he hadn’t set foot in Mexico in over 50 years. Not surprisingly, De Leon found the going difficult at first. After several weeks on the streets, he found a one-room apartment in one of the seedier parts of Tijuana. His family is worried for him, since they don’t think he’s getting proper treatment for his Type 2 diabetes. His son, Andrew, Jr., told KTXL that his eight-year-old son has grown up never knowing his grandfather.

Sadly, De Leon isn’t the only veteran in this city just across the border from San Diego. Former 82nd Airborne paratrooper Hector Barajas, who spent most of his life in Los Angeles before being deported himself, opened the Deported Veterans Support House after finding out there were dozens of veterans in the same position as he and De Leon. Since opening the house, at least 15 people have stopped by. By his estimate, there are at least 200 deported veterans in Tijuana, and there could be as many as a thousand.

He thinks Americans ought to put their money where their mouths are. As much as we talk about supporting the troops, Barajas thinks that we need to “treat these men with honor”–and that means more than burying them with full military honors. As it stands now, that’s the only way many of these veterans will ever see the country they served again.

A spokesman for ICE says that immigration judges do take military service into account in deportation cases, and that any deportation of a veteran “must be approved by the senior leadership.” If that’s the case, whoever signed off on the order to deport De Leon ought to be ashamed of himself. It cannot be repeated enough–this is a man who served the only country he really knew, and received an honorable discharge. I’m literally at a loss for words to describe how outrageous this is. For his sake, and that of his family, something needs to be done to allow De Leon to die at home–in the United States.

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.