Carlos Jaime Torres, who volunteered to join the Army during the Vietnam War, will be laid to rest with full military honors Thursday at the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission. His burial will achieve in death what he had been unable to do since being deported: return to the U.S., the country he called home.
Torres died Saturday at age 64 in Reynosa, just across the river from the state where he spent much of his adult life.
Honorably discharged from the military in 1976 after four years of service, he settled in Houston where he worked as an auto mechanic. His life changed in 1994 when he was arrested and convicted of possession of marijuana charges, serving four years in state prison before being deported to Mexico in 1998 because he lacked citizenship.
Brought to the United States as a baby, Torres never finished his citizenship process, his son, Robert Mosqueda, said. He dreamed of working for the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Agency, both of which require applicants to be U.S. citizens, and twice applied for naturalization in the 1970s. The first time, he was told his application had been canceled, and then never heard back the second time, Mosqueda said.
“One of the main things that he wanted to do was become a U.S. citizen,” Mosqueda said. “I’m still going to wait for it — even though he’s deceased — to go on paper.”
At the time of his death, Torres had a pending petition for citizenship through his mother, who survives him in death.
Torres is one of hundreds of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been deported in the last decade as a result of criminal convictions. While some have committed serious crimes like rape or assault, the majority were arrested on nonviolent drug charges or drunk driving.
“We’re not giving veterans the mental health care they need to transition (back to civilian life) and many self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and that’s what gets them in trouble,” said U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who has pushed for legislation to protect veterans with an honorable discharge who commit nonviolent crimes from deportation.
He co-authored the Repatriate Our Patriots Act last year, and despite it going nowhere last session, said he is optimistic about its future given the impending retirement of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, “pretty much blocked” the bill. Incoming chair, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, appears to be more supportive of the bill, and Gonzalez hopes the committee will release it to be voted on by members of the House of Representatives.
“I don’t see this as an immigration bill; it’s a veterans bill,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t think of anything more shameful than deporting an American veteran. These are people who were here legally.”
Torres was deported a second time for illegal entry in 2010 after he crossed the river following his first deportation and settled in Mission to be close to family, with five of his children living in the Houston area and Mosqueda, an Army veteran, living in Mission, where he works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Three of his other sons are also veterans, having served in the Navy and Army.
The veteran spent his final years in Reynosa working as a security guard at a factory, where he earned less than $1 an hour. He lived alone, with Mosqueda visiting as often as possible, bringing him things he missed from life in Texas, like Whataburger and Thanksgiving food.
Days before his death he’d started a new job providing security for an attorney, which paid substantially more.
“‘Wow, Bob, they’re offering me a company phone,’” Mosqueda said his father told him over the phone. “He’d never experienced that before.”
Despite the obstacles, Torres remained hopeful he’d eventually be allowed to come back to the United States legally.
“I guess the only way for him to come back was with a death certificate since you’re no longer a person; you’re merchandise,” Mosqueda said.
“You could have done a million great things, but you’ve done one bad thing and you’re off the list (for citizenship).”
The story has been updated to reflect Rep. Bob Goodlatte is a republican and that Carlos Jaime Torres died Saturday.