SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — The skies had been gray all morning with a slow and constant mist, but the moment Jose Cardenas came out of the pedestrian crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the rain stopped, and the sun came out.
After waiting 11 years for this day, Cardenas’ homecoming was not going to be dampened.
“I’m still kind of stunned,” he said.
The Army veteran, a member of the 82nd Airborne that fought in Vietnam, was finally home in San Diego.
“I’m just glad, you know, I came back, I didn’t want to die out there,” he said, referring to Tijuana, Mexico, where Cardenas had lived since being deported for a drug conviction.
Cardenas is just one of the thousands of U.S. military servicemen and women who have been deported over the years after committing crimes.
Had they been U.S. citizens, they would have remained north of the border, but per U.S. policy, they are sent back to their country of birth.
Cardenas called it “unfair.”
“I was drafted, many of them went to Canada and we were the ones that answered the call and then after you do all that, you get deported, to me that’s unfair,” he said. “I’m not mad at the service, I’m mad at the system because the system is the one that treated us bad you know.”
Cardenas, now in his 70s, needs a wheelchair to get around.
Cardenas’ sister Maria Santiago leaned in for a hug and a kiss.
“You’re coming home,” said Santiago, one of eight siblings who welcomed their brother home.
“Whenever you get together for family reunions and everything you look at a place and you see somebody is missing, we’re so grateful to have him back and we can kid around, laugh, hit him if we want,” she said. “But there’s other families out there longing to have their loved ones back to fill that place and that void in their family.”
Santiago says she hopes the U.S. government finally passes legislation to bring all deported veterans home.
“These are heroes that fought for our freedom, and although they didn’t have citizenship for the United States, they were willing to give their lives and it seems unfair for them to get deported when they were willing to give their lives for this country.”
According to a PBS report three months ago, there are 94,000 deported U.S. Veterans in exile, unable to return to the United States.