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Confessions of a Deported U.S. Soldier: Mexican Drug Cartels Are Recruiting Us and ‘The System Is Failing’

The Daily Beast

Nov 22, 2019

“Hey, Andrew. It’s Miguel. Listen... they got rid of me.”

The guards came in the middle of the night and sent me to Tamaulipas, a state in Mexico with U.S. travel restrictions due to violence. Only after landing was I able to call my family to tell them what happened. I should have had two more weeks before deportation.

The whole process—from the initial moment I learned my case had an immigration hold to the midnight wake-up call—can only be described as surreal. I’ve considered myself an American my entire life. If “home is where the heart is,” my home is in Chicago with my family and the Cubs. My grandfather is a natural-born American citizen but moved to Mexico to start his family. And his son, my father, moved our family back to the U.S. when I was only 8 years old.

When the time came to serve this country, my country, I never questioned it. I served two tours in Afghanistan with the understanding that I was a U.S. citizen. I was proud to serve a country that had become my home.

A part of me never returned from the war. Similar to many veterans, I live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my time in the military. As a way to cope, I turned to drugs, which led to a conviction and a sentence of seven-plus years.

While in prison, my doctor and I figured out the right medication that positively impacted my mental health. I noticed a distinct difference in my behavior, however, after being brought into ICE custody.

As I was processed into Mexico, they gave me 13 days of medicine. My family brought a little more when visiting me, but the lack of resources to get the medicine I needed impacted my mental health and PTSD. There are no Veterans Affairs hospitals in Tijuana, so once I ran out of my medicine, I could feel my body almost shut down. I started shaking and sweating in November of last year and didn’t stop until I returned home in September. I couldn’t stand in line at the store or even leave my apartment without the memories of my deployment taking over my body.

As I sat shaking alone in my apartment, violence raging outside my windows, I made plans to end it all. But God had other plans for me, and by his grace I survived a year and a half in Mexico without the proper medication or any resources to keep my PTSD under control.

On Oct. 4, 2019, I finally took the oath to become an American citizen. While I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the whole process, my emotions were still mixed. I’m happy to put this ordeal behind me but I will always question why I had to do this again. In my eyes, it’s something that I had already done in my heart.

The first thing I did after returning home was visit my doctor. The resources I had longed for in Mexico are now easily available so I’m starting anew with a healthy, positive lifestyle, seeing a psychologist and visiting my doctor regularly. It’s hard for me to fathom that just three months ago I was in Tijuana shaking in my apartment. The horrible ordeal has left its scars, but I’m healing and finding the right balance.

Now that I’m back in America, I’m doing what I can to take care of myself and the veterans we left behind in Mexico. Sadly, I know fellow soldiers who have been deported for 14-15 years, so I’ve traveled back and forth to Washington, D.C., with LULAC and Green Card Veterans to push for legislative change. For Veterans Day this year, I joined Senator Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, to visit Tijuana and spend time with the other deported veterans still in Mexico. I hope my story gives them faith that they too can return home soon.

This issue isn’t an immigration problem—it’s a veterans issue. The system is failing those who are willing to die for our country. When veterans are unable to get the resources they need to live with PTSD and the effects of war, they get into trouble. For those of us with different birth certificates, we’re faced with deportation from a country we’ve given everything to.

As soon as I faced deportation, the job offers came pouring in from fellow inmates involved in cartels. “You don’t have to worry about a thing,” they said. I eerily learned early on that they weren’t job offers at all, they were demands. This is a direct consequence of deporting military veterans that is going unnoticed.

I’m thankful to be back home with my family, but I’m a rare case for those in my shoes. Our country is failing those who fought to keep us safe, and I hope Ready for War sheds light on the human aspect of this issue and the national security implications.