A Navy veteran, who spent years living in Mexico, finally returned to his home in Texas and became a U.S. citizen. The veteran had been deported twice after being arrested while driving while under the influence.
The journey for Frank De La Cruz to return home has been a long one. De La Cruz didn’t even realize he wasn’t an American citizen until the country deported him the first time. He had been born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. His family had legally migrated to El Paso, Texas when De La Cruz was six.
De La Cruz spent most of his childhood there. When he graduated high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served a tour in the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s. After serving, he returned to El Paso and joined the Army National Guard. He also worked part time at the VA and as a refrigeration technician.
During his time in the war, De La Cruz told the Texas Tribune he developed a drinking problem that plagued him when he returned to civilian life. In 1998, police arrested him for a DWI. The U.S. government deported him to Ciudad Juárez.
“I never realized I could get deported. ‘S–t, I was in the military — they can’t deport me.’ That was my thinking,'” he said.
The Navy veteran crossed the border illegally to see his sick mother.
De La Cruz lived seven years in Juárez. In 2005, he crossed the border illegally with help from a smuggler to see his sick mother. He lived in Texas illegally for five years, but authorities deported him again in 2010 after another DWI. His wife and children lived with him there for five years. But they left due to cartel violence.
“My family didn’t want to go to Juárez [to visit] anymore because of the crime,” he said. “I was like a hobbit. I’d go to work and then come home and stay inside.”
With the help of an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, De La Cruz filed for citizenship application in 2016. A Supreme Court ruling in 2004 helped his case. In Leocal v. Ashcroft, DWI were taken off the list of crimes that blocked deported immigrants from naturalization.
On Sept. 9, the United States allowed De La Cruz back into the country and welcomed him as a U.S. citizen.
Da La Cruz is in a small percentage of deported veterans the U.S. has allowed to return to the country. According to The Washington Post, more than 2,000 deported veterans live currently abroad. That number may be higher. Deportable offenses range from entering the country illegally or overstaying a visa to aggravated felonies.
“Despite everything that I went through, it was heartbreaking, but I would [serve] all over again,” De La Cruz said. “You know why? My family is American.”
[H/T: Texas Tribune]