Marine veterans Erasmo Apodaca Mendizabal and Marco Antonio Chavez, as well as former soldier Hector Barajas Varela, were honorably discharged from the military, but after their time in uniform were convicted of crimes and deported.
Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, also a veteran, worked on their cases, and said their pardons will make it easier for their green cards to be restored, and for them to apply for U.S. citizenship.
“The injustice we are solving is not the actual crime or conviction, the injustice is what the federal government did to them,” Fletcher said.
Apodaca deployed in Operation Desert Storm in the , but after he was discharged he was convicted and sentenced in 1996 in Kern County for stealing $500 worth of things from his ex-girlfriend. He was incarcerated for 10 months and three years parole.
Chavez came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 1 year old, and served four years in the . He was sentenced in 1998 in Los Angeles County for cruelty to animals, served 10 months in prison and 13 months on parole, and was deported in 2002. He moved with his family to Mexico, and his wife, who does not speak Spanish, commuted across the border for work. Eventually his family moved to Iowa, leaving him in Mexico.
Barajas served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division during Desert Storm. He was sentenced in summer 2002 in Los Angeles County for being in a car when a gun was fired, and served 13 months in prison and 13 months on parole. His pardon says that he established the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana to help deported veterans adjust to their new lives.
Fletcher had received an unofficial notice that Barajas would be pardoned, and was with him in Tijuana when he learned that the governor had completed the process.
“We awkwardly hung out for a few hours as I stared at my phone, waiting for the text message,” Fletcher said. “He was stunned, he started crying, he was overwhelmed. He couldn’t believe it. He’s had just years and years of bad news, yet every day he gets out there and tries to help.”
Immigrants who serve in the U.S. military become eligible for citizenship.
The three men’s green cards had been revoked because of their convictions. With their pardons and the reason for their dismissed green cards gone, their lawyers will argue that the crucial permit for living and working in the U.S. should be reinstated, Fletcher said.
All of the 72 people who were pardoned had received a Certificate of Rehabilitation, a declaration from a Superior Court. They have also led productive and law-abiding lives since completing their sentences.
“Pardons are not granted unless they are earned,” a news release from the Governor’s Office said.
Most of the people who were pardoned were convicted of drug-related or non-violent crimes.
Brown also issued commutations for seven more serious offenses, including a woman who as a teenager hid a pregnancy from her abusive boyfriend and devout Catholic parents before giving birth in a bathtub and killing her child. She was sentenced in Los Angeles County to 15 years to life for second-degree murder. Another commutation recipient killed a person as a teenager in a drug-related crime.
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