Local veteran granted relief from deportation

Edgar Baltazar, 11, hugs his father Edgar during a press conference on Thursday May, 2, 2019 in McAllen. The veteran was released from ICE detention recently after being deported. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Jennifer Garcia was on another call with family when she received a call from the Port Isabel Detention Center Wednesday evening.

Her husband was on the other the line and told her what she had been waiting to hear for months: he was being released and coming home instead of being deported to his native Mexico.

A Harlingen immigration judge granted Edgar Baltazar Garcia cancelation of removal Wednesday, three months after he was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement while crossing back into the United States from Mexico.

Jennifer Garcia wasn’t the only one awaiting the news — so too was U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and veterans here in Hidalgo County and across the country who learned about the case of an Iraq War veteran who is not a U.S. citizen facing deportation over a felony conviction, many sending letters of support.

Baltazar, 38, said he was surprised his case attracted so much attention, but was glad it did.

“It’s not about me; it’s about my fellow soldiers who are in Mexico and many other countries,” he said Thursday at a press conference organized by his attorney, Carlos M. Garcia. “We need immigration reforms, different laws to bring them back. It’s not about me, but it’s about every soldier that gave to this nation.”

After Baltazar, a legal permanent resident who has lived in the United States since he was 14, was honorably discharged from the Army, his return to civilian life was complicated by his diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and a traumatic brain injury. He found himself facing a family violence charge in 2017 and landed in a specialty court program for veterans where he was required to attend counseling sessions as terms of his probation.

All the stability he had worked to maintain was upended in February after what was supposed to be a day spent with family in Reynosa initiated removal proceedings.

Having consulted with the veterans court prior to leaving the country, Baltazar thought he would have no issue crossing back. But while Baltazar can’t be deported for his third-degree felony charge while in the United States, the rules at a port of entry are different, said his attorney. ICE has the purview to detain non-citizens for a range of felony charges.

Rep. Gonzalez has pushed for citizenship for non-citizen veterans and has re-introduced the Repatriate Our Patriots Act, which would halt the deportation of honorably discharged veterans unless the veteran is convicted of murder, rape, child sex crimes or acts of terrorism. It would also provide a pathway for citizenship for deported veterans.

“The (immigration) judge in this case found some sympathy for Mr. Baltazar, but you might not get that outcome in Fort Worth,” Gonzalez said.

He estimates that there are more than a thousand deported veterans and said his office knows of deported veterans living in 38 countries.

Baltazar knows his case could have ended up like that. Many of the detention officers were veterans themselves and told him stories of veterans who weren’t as fortunate as he was.

He is in the process of applying for citizenship, something he wishes he had done earlier but got distracted by work and raising a family. In retrospect that was no excuse, he said, adding, “It’s what I deserve — the citizenship for this country that I fought for, that I believe in.”

If granted, Baltazar said one of the first things he would like to do is travel to Tijuana to meet with deported vets to give them a message of hope and “tell them that they are not alone” and that he, and others, will be with them in their fight for citizenship.

Family of veteran detained by ICE pleads for his release