Andres De Leon is an honorably discharged Army veteran who served his country after enlisting to fight in Vietnam when he was just 18.
Yet, despite this, the now 72-year-old is living in a small, one-bedroom home in a poor neighborhood in Tijuana, Mexico, since being deported from the U.S., Fox40 reports.
“I feel they did me wrong because I risked my life for Uncle Sam just so, at the end, I get deported,” the former Madera, Calif., resident said.
“I got no choice,” he told Fox40. “I have to stay here, but I’m doing the best I can.”
The veteran, who served for 12 years, including two stints overseas, will possibly never again visit the U.S., his home of 50 or so years, until he dies and gets the proper U.S. veteran’s burial to which he is entitled.
When De Leon was 12, he moved to Madera, legally, with his family, eventually enlisting to fight in Vietnam.
His life crumbled, however, when his mother died, and he sank into a deep depression.
“He would take my mom everywhere. When my mom passed away, that really pushed him to the edge,” De Leon’s sister, Elizabeth, told the news station.
De Leon became addicted to heroin at the age of 63 and was eventually arrested for possession. He had served nearly three years at California’s Soledad State Prison before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials visited him and informed him that he would not be able to return to his home in Madera.
In 2009 an immigration judge ordered the veteran deported to Mexico, a country he had not known since childhood.
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it,” his son, Andres Jr., said. “I couldn’t believe they would deport a veteran with an honorable discharge.”
His family back in the United States worries about him. De Leon has Type 2 diabetes. He has no friends or family in Tijuana. His first few weeks there, he was homeless.
“He wants to come home with his kids, his grandkids, his family,” his sister added. “It worries me very much that something might happen to my brother. I’m going to be torn apart.”
Andres De Leon eventually figured out that he was not the only veteran who had been deported to Mexico and eventually happened upon Hector Barajas, a former paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, who grew up in Los Angeles.
In 2013 Barajas founded a support house for deported veterans.
“We believe none of these men should be left behind,” Barajas told Fox40. “We talk about supporting the troops—let’s keep supporting these men. Treat these men with honor.”
According to Fox40, there are an estimated 100,000 people who were deported from the U.S. and are currently living in Tijuana. There are no records as to how many of them are veterans, but Barajas believes there are a couple hundred, if not more than a thousand.
As for De Leon, according to Fox, he has resigned himself to the possibility that he will not be back on U.S. soil until he is dead.
“I’ve been told the only way I can return is dead. So, if dead is the only way I can return, I would like to be buried with my friends in the Catholic cemetery in Madera, Calif.,” he told the news station.
“Why would they honor us only when we die? They’re going to give an American flag to our families and say, ‘Thank you for your service to your country,’” Barajas added. “If you want to honor our men, let them get their treatment. Let them live with their families.”
Read more at Fox40.