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San Diego’s GI Film Festival to feature films on immigrant veterans

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San Diego GI Film Festival

A military film festival will feature two documentaries that illustrate challenges that immigrant veterans face if they did not naturalize while they were serving and end up deported.

GI Film Festival San Diego will pair the two films, showing Saturday afternoon at AMC Mission Valley 20, with a panel discussion on the issue.

“San Diego is a military town, but it’s also a border town,” said Jodi Cilley, founder and president, Film Consortium San Diego, one of the film festival’s partners. “Showing films about deported veterans is important to us as it really does show the vastly different experiences of our veterans and shines a light on a little-known fact that people that have served our country have been deported out of it.”

The panel will include Mike Seely, one of the film makers, Lilia Velasquez, an attorney who represented a veteran profiled in one of the films, Adriana Gomez, a Marine Corps veteran who naturalized while in the military, Roman Ortega, Director of Veteran Students at Lewis University, and Jennifer Maldonado of Rep. Juan Vargas’s office.

One of the films, “Exiled,” has been nominated for Best Documentary Short at the festival. It tells the stories of Mauricio Hernandez, an Army combat veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Hector Barajas, a former paratrooper who started the Deported Veteran Support House, also known as “the Bunker,” in Tijuana.

Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Barajas in April as part of the push to help him come back to his daughter in Los Angeles.

The other film, “Deported Veterans of America: Daniel Torres,” tells the story of Daniel Torres, a former Marine who was discharged after the military learned he was an unauthorized immigrant. Since he had served in the Iraq War, he was eventually able to become a citizen and return to the U.S.

Unlike Torres, most deported veterans had green cards to be in the U.S., a requirement for joining the military. They are generally deported due to criminal convictions.

Some immigrants say they thought joining the military meant they were citizens and that the military needs to better educate new recruits on what they still need to do to naturalize.

kate.morrissey@sduniontribune.com, @bgirledukate on Twitter
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