By Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service
LOS ANGELES (CN) – In poverty-stricken South Central Los Angeles, a television commercial for the U.S. Marines grabbed the attention of 11-year-old Enrique Salas Garcia.
“I wanted that sense of honor and pride that comes from being a Marine. I wanted to be a badass Marine,” Garcia said.
Seven years later, the week after he graduated from high school, Garcia’s dream came true when his parents allowed him to enlist in the Marines. He served in the first Persian Gulf War, won many commendations and became a lance corporal.
In adjusting to civilian life, Salas grappled with a drug problem. He was sentenced to six months in jail for possession. Though he vowed not to repeat that mistake, in a cruel twist of fate, Salas’s permanent resident card was stolen during a family trip to Tijuana in 2006.
Border officials voided his legal status when he reported the green card stolen. And unknown to Salas, his conviction meant that despite his four years of military service, he faced deportation and separation from his children and family.
Now Salas is exiled in Tijuana, where he repairs industrial tanks. It is a long way from that snapshot of a young boy who believed America could offer him a better future.
Salas is not the only one, said ACLU staff attorney Jennie Pasquarella, co-author of the report on deported veterans, released last week by the ACLU.
Pasquarella says the U.S. government is letting down Salas and thousands of others by not educating active service members and veterans about …