SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The Don Diego Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Barrio Logan has been working for weeks to spread holiday cheer among deported veterans living in Tijuana.
The post organized a Christmas party for service members grappling with the uncertainties of life after deportation for the second time.
"We don't leave anyone behind," said Livier J. Lazaro, the commander for post 7420. "Every branch speaks about it, but we have. We have left them behind there."
Thanks to the collaboration and support from San Diego Veterans for Peace, Unified United States Deported Veterans, and Black Deported Veterans of America, the event became a reality.
"A lot of them still don't have their benefits," Livier said.
Non-citizens have been permitted to serve in the U.S. military for decades, and prior to 1996, they faced deportation primarily for violent crimes such as murder.
That changed in 1996 with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, broadening the spectrum of crimes, including misdemeanors, that could lead to deportation.
"It didn't say deport veterans; it just said immigrants," said Jan Ruhman, the president of San Diego Veterans for Peace.
While Saturday's event focuses on the veterans in Tijuana, advocates said the issue goes beyond the southern border.
"There are veterans all over the globe suffering this," said James Smith II, founder and co-director of Black Deported Veterans of America. "These are our brothers and sisters and they need to come home."