It’s not every day that a Mexican national with a lifetime ban on entering the United States has the opportunity to meet one of the top presidential candidates in the U.S. face to face. On Saturday, though, U.S. Army veteran and deportee Hector Barajas found himself speaking through the metal border fence with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was campaigning in California.
“Thank you for your service to this country,” Sanders told Barajas in a video of the encounter posted on Facebook. “I would like to see you on this side of the border.”
Sanders made the statement at Friendship Park in San Diego, where people come to see their loved ones who live on the other side of the fence. Sanders later told reporters that his trip there made him see “why we need comprehensive immigration reform” to “unite families.”
Barajas served the U.S. as a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne. After serving, he was arrested for firing a gun and then deported. He later told Think Progress that the incident was at least partly to blame on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was later caught trying to cross back into the country to see his daughter and was then banned from entry for life. Now he runs an advocacy organization called Banished Veterans that helps deported veterans like himself reintegrate into cities and societies that some of them haven’t seen since their childhoods.
Both Sanders and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton have taken liberal positions on immigration. Unlike the likely Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has repeatedly bashed Mexicans and called them “rapists” and “criminals,” the Democrats have called for pathways to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.