May 12, 2017
By Carlos Luna, Fellow

Carlos Luna at Alpha 2017 Orientation

You wouldn’t think veterans, their families, and Gold Star families are being deported — but they are.

What spurred me to speak to Chicago’s City Council about this is a story that’s been in the news recently about Miguel Perez Jr.. Miguel is a United States Army veteran who, after serving time for drug-related charges, is facing the possibility of being deported to Mexico, a country he hasn’t seen since he was eight. He deployed to Afghanistan twice, and has relative experience with combat and weapons. He and his family fear he will be forced to serve cartels and gangs if sent to Mexico because of his expertise.

As a veteran and President of League of United Latin American Citizens – Green Card Veterans chapter, I am driven to talk about this issue. Although we are often led to believe that this is an issue that only affects the Mexican community, the fact is that this fight for justice and equality is one that transcends ethnic differences.

When veterans return home, they are met with unemployment, reintegration challenges, lack of support, and lack of purpose. Because of this, veterans are routinely preyed upon by financial institutions, so-called educational institutions, and, in cases like Miguel, by organized crime for his knowledge of weapons and combat.

Many issues that veterans face arise from not knowing how to navigate systems, the VA being the biggest example. Other times, systems that once existed to support members of the community have simply been taken away. Lack of proper care allows symptoms of trauma to manifest into alcohol and drug abuse, which can lead to criminality. After one or two criminal charges, veterans are separated from their families using flawed deportation policies. Sanctuary cities like my hometown of Chicago are under attack by the very policies that were put in place to protect them.

Locally we have seen budget cuts to public schools, community organizations and government agencies that serve the community, including veterans and their families. Yet, we continue to spend on initiatives that don’t address the root of the cause. In Chicago, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on surveillance, alone – yet, some estimates put CPD’s homicide clearance rate at roughly 30% for the last several years.

Abner Garcia, a young veteran who was loved by everybody he knew, including myself, was shot and killed one year ago. It happened as he was stopped at a red light – and under no less than 6 surveillance cameras. Somehow, Abner’s killer remains at large.

I believe that, had Abner’s killer had received services and preventative resources, Abner could be here today.

Likewise, had care and treatment been afforded to Mr. Perez after he was discharged from the Army, he’d arguably not be awaiting deportation right now.

If we want to truly be “helping veterans” we need to think holistically. Helping veterans goes beyond improving the VA. If we want to actually help veterans in an effective and meaningful way, we need to address the needs of all communities and their members. At the core, we need to understand that the “veteran community” is not isolated in some corner of our country – it is woven into every neighborhood and street of our country.

 

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