Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.
Hello, friends. This week, I have the pleasure of meeting James Smith and he has brought with him two other people to talk about Black deported veterans. This was an issue for me that I had actually never heard of. I had the pleasure of attending a conference and many thanks, shout-out to Antoinesha Williamson who brought the topic up for discussion with the Veteran’s Affairs Committee for the NAACP for the California-Hawaii State Conference. But I had never heard about deported veterans much less Black deported veterans. And apparently, there have instances of deported veterans that have been getting together, mostly across the border in Mexico, Tijuana. And just listening to James talk about Black deported veterans really made me want to get more information on the subject. And in lieu of Veteran’s Day, I figured what better time to talk about the issues than now?
So this week, James Smith from Black Deported Veterans of America joins us. James is a video journalist located in San Diego, California. In 2013 while on assignment, James encountered the term deported veteran. And after researching and interviewing Fernando Sorontas, a former deported veteran, James continued to document various events involving the deported veterans issue.
In 2021, James met David Bariu, a formerly deported veteran in Kenya on Facebook. Together, along with deported veterans Rudi Richardson, from the United Kingdom, and Jeff Brown from Jamaica, they formed a support group for deported veterans that identified as Black or African American known today as BDVA or Black Deported Veterans of America, when they realized that the majority of those that were not in the Southern border region of the United States weren’t receiving the same attention or support. Today, they are one of five major deported vet organizations fighting for the rights of deported veterans.
And I also want to give a shout-out to James. Their non-profit received the Salute to our Veterans Non-Profit award in San Diego the other day so congratulations to the organization. I’m just pleased to have not only James, but he has brought with him David Bariu as well as Imo-jah Desouza to really talk about their stories and the impacts that deportation has had on their family. So I encourage you to listen to this episode and get more information about what is going on with deported veterans.
All right. Well I am excited to have you all with us. Mostly because I had never even heard of this issue. Having gone to the NAACP State Conference, to the Veteran’s Affairs Committee. And this was a first time I had really heard anything about deported veterans, much less Black deported veterans.
So James, can you give us a little bit about what this issue is and why does it even exist?
James Smith: Okay. Well basically, in 1996, then President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, basically mirrored the crime bill in the immigration sector. They changed the rules that had mandatory sentencing. Prior to 1996, judges were allowed to look at your Military record if you came upon immigration proceedings and they were able to make assessments upon what they felt they should do going forward.
But after 1996, they were instructed that they could no longer take your Military record into consideration. This is one of the points that I try to point out to other veteran organizations for people to understand that this was not a mistake, what happened to veterans. It was not a mistake. They made sure that when they changed this immigration act, they made sure that they included veterans in that process. So what wound up happening was, they expanded a thing called aggravated felonies. In 1988 when they created the term, they being Congress, created the term aggravated felony. It fit that term. It was for murders, trafficking in weapons, and trafficking in drugs, and human trafficking. So it fit that criteria. But since then, they’ve added over 30 other items to include things as much as DUIs or you could be deported for petty theft if you wound up getting a sentence of 365 days or more.
And unfortunately for those that don’t really understand the criminal justice system, during the … Especially in big cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, if you get a year sentence, most of the time everybody pleads out. And so if you get a year sentence, you’re only looking at doing about two and a half months. So you’ll take that deal to go ahead and walk out not knowing that to just take that two and a half months, you just qualified yourself to be deported if you don’t have your paperwork.
Now, the Military has always had a pathway that allowed for citizenship but they didn’t have a unilateral process of doing it. Each department was left up to their own device on when and how they want to go about doing it. So that’s where a lot of people wind up falling through the cracks in that situation. You’ve got some officers that are uninformed and some that may have been informed and purposely mislead [inaudible 00:07:09]. But most people thought that once you went into bootcamp and you took your oath of enlistment, that was the same as getting your citizenship. It was a done deal. You are one of the most prominent citizens in the United States so citizenship should not be a problem. Your recruiter told you that when you signed up, you were going to get free schooling and you were going to get your citizenship. And so the recruiter didn’t necessarily lie, he just didn’t make sure he told you that it could be a very difficult process for you to go ahead and do.
Now, during the time of conflict, which basically is from 2001 to present, and then those few years of Desert Storm and Desert Shield, those people were what they call a non-citizen inductees. They were given a status of expedited, that they were supposed to be [inaudible 00:08:03] to have expedited naturalization process. And again, because there was no unilateral way of doing this, some of them wound up falling through the cracks.
Now unfortunately, in 2008 was when we first started seeing the whole group of deported veterans but we saw them in Mexico. And that’s where everybody’s focus became when people did find out about it. It became in Mexico because those guys were kind of smart. They grouped together instead of going back to their different provinces and stuff like this, they all stayed together there in TJ with the hope that something could happen. And it did. It got a notice and stuff and everything else. So different politicians and stuff went down there and they came out of there and you hear the Hispanic Caucus. When you dig into this, you start seeing how the Hispanic Caucus and all these different Hispanic representatives pitching bills and doing things about this.
Every person that I’ve interviewed since 2013 all said that there were people in Africa, in Jamaica, and Asia, and all different countries. The thing was never … We never looked at the thing as a group, of Black. My thing during that termination was, was that those that were trying to come back were on the list of these two organizations that were down in TJ, Unify US Deported Veterans and Deported Veteran Support House. But eventually found out that wasn’t true after I met David. And so we began to grow Black Deported Veterans out of that.
Melyssa Barrett: So I’m going to ask Imo-jah to go first and really talk about … Can you give us a little sense for your father’s story and how this has impacted you?
Imo-jah Desouza: So I actually want to highlight the fact that I am here speaking with my dad on his behalf and that’s because he was recently sick so even more reason to get him to come back to America. But a little bit about my dad’s story is that my dad served in the US Army. He joined shortly after he graduated high school, so around 17-years-old or so. And he came to America at the age of 12. So it’s kind of like he came at a very, very young age.
He served in the Army for about six years and got an honorable discharge. He committed a few crimes and he has served time for the crimes. It wasn’t anything gruesome like murder. It was some petty crimes. But I guess that’s subjective to who you’re telling about the crime. And so he did the time for the crimes and then 20 years later, ICE is knocking on his door like, “You’re going back to Jamaica.” And it’s just like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” So that was really crazy.
And just a story about how that happened is that my dad was living in Atlanta at the time when he got deported. And he was there with his fiance. They must have got into an argument that night and so she was sleeping upstairs and he was sleeping on the couch. Typical stuff, right? And so at six o’clock in the morning, he gets a knock on his door and she comes down and opens the door. And some police officer-type guys are like looking for someone but it’s not anyone that lives there. So my dad was just very confused by that and ended up going to the door to say, “Hey, whoever you’re looking for isn’t here.” And it was, “Oh, you’re Mark.” And then basically just handcuffed him. And that’s how it happened. So I heard that that’s usually their typical tactic of acting like they’re looking for someone else.
And so they basically arrested him and that was March of 2013. So I was a freshman in college at that time. And he spent two months in jail, which he spent his birthday in jail during that time and then got deported back to Jamaica. So this March coming will make 10 years since he’s been in Jamaica.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow. So wait. So you said he served in the Military and then 20 years later they went and did this. So how did … I mean, is it just like all of a sudden their records got updated and they decided that they needed to go do this or how does-
Imo-jah Desouza: Yeah. We’re trying to pinpoint how that actually happened or how they found him, per se. I wanted to say that he went to renew his license or something like that and maybe that pinged something on their radar. I don’t know if they’ve been looking for him or whatever the case may be. And you know, just doing a regular, daily activity, updating my license and then next thing you know, they’re at your door. But again, the crimes that he committed were done 20 years prior and he hadn’t done anything within those 20 years. All he did was serve the time. So it sounds like he’s being punished twice at this point.
Melyssa Barrett: Right, interesting. All right. So then … And David, can you talk a little bit about your story? We now are in Jamaica but I know you have a different story.
David Bariu: Yes, Melyssa. My story is I came to the United States in August of ’98 to pursue my further education with an F-1 student visa at Southern Arkansas University. To semesters down the lane, I was on holiday in Dallas with my friends. I was approached by a recruiter and promised me all kinds of good stuff, free education and naturalization, respectively. I got recruited in the US Army.
And then two years down the lane, my unit commander calls me in and lets me know that my recruiter, he’s being court marshaled for fraudulently recruiting internationals in the Army. So I had to attend to that. I had to go to Ft. Hood, Texas for his court marshal. He was found guilty.
Then with that result, the US Army honorably discharged me because now they couldn’t keep me in. And thereafter, ICE decided to give me a voluntary departure to leave the country. So at that point in time, I wasn’t conversant with the immigration laws. And I opted to get more advice from my friends. I drove back to Dallas. That’s where I was introduced to another lawyer who was conversant with immigration Military laws. So I filed for my first nationalization under section 229 of Military service during hostilities. And that kept me afloat and I was fortunate again to join the Air Force Reserve for another five years. And then I progressed well. I was a surgical tech and then transitioned again to optometry tech.
Then as Desouza’s daughter say, immigration popped up at my residence looking for somebody that didn’t live in my residence. But as soon as I opened the door, they told me, “Yes, that’s you we’re looking for.” And I was detained, processed through ICE Dallas, and I was detained for one year in Haskell Detention Center.
Melyssa Barrett: And you’re from where?
David Bariu: I’m from Kenya.
Melyssa Barrett: Okay. So you come over here and you do all of this service. And which branch was it?
David Bariu: US Army.
Melyssa Barrett: US Army.
David Bariu: Two years and Air Force Reserve five years.
Melyssa Barrett: Okay. And so you’ve done your service and then they are coming to pick you up to deport you back to Kenya for what exactly?
David Bariu: According to their records, they said I did not attend school. But I did attend school. So they say that I got into the States and I did not go to school at all to Southern Arkansas. So that was the reason.
Melyssa Barrett: Um, okay.
David Bariu: Because I had no felonies. I had no crimes. So they had to look for a reason. You know?
Melyssa Barrett: Wow. And so this just happens, James, all … I mean just … They just decide that if somebody hasn’t gone to school that they can be deported back to wherever they born?
James Smith: I guess you can say reverse engineering some of the things that have happened. There is argument that there’s a list that is already out there. They won’t acknowledge, they meaning DHS and the government, doesn’t acknowledge there’s a list. But what happened to Imo-jah’s dad, Mark, I saw happen to some other veterans but they had gone to apply for their veteran’s benefits at the VA. And two months after that, they got removal notices. And again, in their cases, minor crime. They’re … What do you call it? Misdemeanor crimes, were over two decades old. They had been paying taxes, upstanding tax citizens. Hadn’t been back in trouble, operators of a school and different things in the Colorado area. But they decided one day to go in to try to get their benefits and they were dinged.
So somewhere, there is a list of people that they know that have not gotten their paperwork taken care of yet. And these people are hitting on those dings. So it’s not like they’re focally going out after them. The net’s set up for them and they’re just waiting for them to fly into the net. At one time or another, you’re going to have to go renew your license. At one time or another, you’re going to have to sign up in the VA. So it’s just different things that you know that you’re going to wind up coming across and likely come across that they go ahead and do that.
But I mean one thing to this whole rule is that you could be a minister. You could have created that crime when you were fresh out of the service, having a hard time transitioning, then gotten your life around and you’re the minister of a congregation. And you just happen to go out on a Black Lives Matter March and they decide to do a roundup and you get deported because of something that happened … No matter what your status is right now, that’s not taken into consideration. It’s if that crime fits to that bill, it’s goodbye to you.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. And I think Imo-jah just says, you’re getting double penalized for something that has been done seemingly years ago, in these cases anyway. So how is it impacting the families? Because I know David, I think you had mentioned that you have a family and I think you were over here and then you were deported back to Kenya and life was different when you got back. And Imo-jah has, this was your father so he was taken away and you’re still here in America. So how has it impacted the family unit?
Imo-jah Desouza: So my dad has nine kids and yeah, he has a lot of kids. But we all love him very, very dearly. And it has impacted us tremendously. My dad has missed the births of grandchildren. He’s missed graduations. I’m actually set to get married in March and it breaks my heart that he probably won’t be able to walk me down the aisle, or maybe, who knows? And so very, very depressing stuff.
And also, the same woman that I spoke about earlier who was his fiance, she actually passed while he’s been away. And so he hasn’t been able to attend her funeral and she was the love of his life. His dad had also passed away and so I actually met his dad on his deathbed and I flew to Florida to meet him for the first time on his deathbed just so I could FaceTime my dad so that he could tell his dad bye. Which was kind of depressing.
And then most recently, I got a call stating that my dad hadn’t showed up for work for a few days and that someone went to go check on him and he’s basically in bed unable to move, unable to speak, very, very weak. And I’m just like, “What’s going on? What happening?” So I literally bought a ticket to Jamaica and spent couple hundred dollars just to go check on him. Come to find out, he had a stroke and now he suffers from extreme memory loss. And so he doesn’t really have a lot of people there to take care of him. So I worry about him every day. And unlike other people who can just go up to their dad and hug and kiss them, I can’t do that. I have to think about, do I have time to take off of work? Do I have money in my pocket to get a ticket? Where am I staying when I go to Jamaica? Lots of different questions that you have to think about.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. No doubt. David?
David Bariu: My situation is getting deported back to a country I’ve been gone for over nine years. And I’m going back to a hostile situation. They don’t say much in the media but our neighboring country in Somali in Kenya. And they’re known to have radicals, they’re called Al-Shabab. And the situation, even before I came to the States, back in ’98, three days after I got my F-1 student visa, they bombed the Embassy. If you can recall the US bombing, US Embassy bombing. Yes. Three days after. Now I’m going back to the same situation. They’ve been terrorizing malls, schools, police departments, transportation, churches. So it’s not been easy for me.
And I’m going back as a veteran. My status is I am a veteran. So getting a job, it’s difficult. The only way I got a job was through my dad’s company which did not … It did not last long because he passed away and the shareholders decided to part ways also. So I was moving from one town to another trying to find a job and trying to keep a low profile on my status. And I was fortunate enough to get family. I have two kids and it’s been rough. Giving them promises, everything will be okay and you don’t know when it’s going to be okay. So it’s been tough. It’s been-
Melyssa Barrett: And you’re back in the United States now or-
David Bariu: Yes.
Melyssa Barrett: Okay.
David Bariu: I came back … It started basically on the 26th of May, I was approved for my parole letter. Then I had to make arrangements to get my ticket which was through a veteran organization that supported deported veterans. We have DFW. There’s a commander, Olivier, with assistance from James. They went out there and promoted my situation and were able to come up with an airline ticket. And this took another one, one and a half months. So by around 7th September, that’s when I was able to fly back.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow.
David Bariu: It was taxing as in people didn’t understand. The government will take you back, deport you back to whatever the origin of your country. But they will not bring you back. That is your own expense. So different.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow. Interesting. Let’s pause for a moment. We’ll be right back.
So what is the solution to some of this? Because I know, James, you had mentioned in the room that I was in that there is some legislation out there but it sounds like it doesn’t go far enough to address the issue.
James Smith: Well, it just has some ambiguous things. And it’s up to debate on how far it goes or it can go or should go, depending on who you talk to. Currently, there are three major bills that are in Congress. There’s S.B. 3212 and 1182. They are both companion bills, H.R. 1182. They’re companion bills. H.R. 1182 is a House bill. S.B. 3212 is the Senate bill. But they’re companion bills called the Veterans Deportation and Prevention Act. One Senator Padilla consented the S.B. 3212. Some of the supporters are Corey Booker, that are signed on, are Cory Booker, Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Diane Feinstein, of course Padilla, and a couple of others. But we don’t hear too much about them saying anything.
And then on the House bill side, it was presented by Mark Takano and one of the rockstars and there were two other rockstars. And they are AOC and Sheila Jackson Lee that are supporting those bills. But you don’t hear too much from them even though Miss Lee has been at the hearings and has been testifying at the hearings. But she’s the only Black person that I’ve seen throughout this thing to have consistently lately been advocating for the veterans. She hasn’t been specifically for the Black deported veteran but for the deported veteran. Most people don’t know about the Black deported veteran, those that even know about this issue, they only know it in a Hispanic sense.
So getting back to the legislation. So the legislation has been tinted in that sense that has been more of an immigration issue and that’s what keeps getting people locked up into it. And the divisiveness of it is people keep trying to look at it as an immigration issue whereas we look at it as a veteran issue and as an issue of honor.
Now what has happened is that this past summer, H.R. 7986 was introduced by, again, by Mark Takano. That’s the Veteran Service Recognition Act, theoretically, it’s 11-82 and 11-83 put together. 11-82 was stopping the deportation of veterans and helping them bring back. 11-83 was honor the oath. That was basically saying that when you raise your hand for that citizenship, then the pathway should be presented for you in a unilateral way so that you’re able to achieve that. Raise your hand and take the oath for. 79-46, that’s what … To pretty much puts both of those together. It has a line in there to me that’s ambiguous because it says that they will form a panel that would look at all those who didn’t have serious crimes. So it’s what does serious crimes mean in that process.
Unfortunately, that’s what we’re really going to need his legislation to change things around because what they’ve been promoting out here, the IMMVI, Immigrant Military Members and Veteran’s Initiative looks good from the outside. But when you’re operating it on the inside and seeing the inside, you realize this is what I was talking about a Bandaid on a bullet hole. If you follow the hearings or follow what they’re talking about, they utilize a thing or a term called humanitarian parole. And that’s the process by which bringing [inaudible 00:27:35] back if they choose to decide that you are worthy of coming back.
And that criteria is not shared with those of us that are fighting for this, not even with the lawyers. We have meetings with the ACLU, ACLU and immigrant defenders and public counsel and Margaret Stock and some of the great lawyers that have been dealing with this situation. At the end of every month, actually we have another one tomorrow, a meeting with them tomorrow. The first Thursday or each month. And they share with us the challenges that they have and one of the challenges is, is that they’re not giving the criteria of what is the baseline that people are looking for.
So when you’re going in, you’re having to shoot for the moon. And then Congress has given them the leeway not to … They don’t have to tell you why they turned you down. Again, that becomes my argument about being disingenuous because if Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden are saying that this was an abhorrent thing and needs to be taken care of, then why aren’t you dropping all the guardrails out the way so that we can effectively make changes in this? We have to wind up doing a FOIA request, Freedom of Information Act request at the end because when we ask why was this person turned down, they remind you that they don’t have to tell you. And my point is, those key words, have to. Not that you were ordered that you can’t. You don’t have to so if you’re going to really help us, you would be like, “Here. Here’s all the information that you need. Here’s what you need to go ahead and do that.”
We have a thing called Mobile … Well it used to be called Mobile Airlift Command. It’s called Air Mobile Command. What that is, is if you’re a Military member, back when I was in, in the 80s, it was $10. I don’t know how much it is now. It’s probably like 20 or 30 bucks. But for $10, you could literally go around the world on the Mac flight. It’s called space available. You just had to find a flight that was going there and you had to deal with the timings and everything else. So we’re like, “I’ve offered up to them in the meetings, why are we not utilizing those things instead of having these guys?”
Because the Black deported veteran has a different situation than my brothers. They’re able to walk over. Literally, that’s how you see them coming back is walking over. Now some of them do wind up flying. There’s some coming from South America, Central America, those cases. But in most cases, they’re walking over. We have to fly. No matter where we’re coming from, we have to fly unless we get to Mexico. We tried to hook David up, David a couple of times to try to get him into Mexico so he could walk back. Mexico will only give you a visa for so long or so much a period of time. And if you don’t have it locked in that you’re going to be able to walk on this certain day, it makes it even more difficult. So those are things that we’ve offered to them. USCIS, you take your planes down there filled with 100, 200 people, and they’re coming back empty. Next time you send somebody down there, you could bring them back. So there are many other things that they could be doing to make this situation a lot easier with what we’re doing.
So no disrespect to those operating the underground railroad. But in theory, that’s what we’re doing right now is we’re utilizing whatever processes that we can with the help of schools like Duke University who’s helping her dad. Schools like University of Texas, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and I think there’s a couple other ones that are in there, I just don’t know who they are. But those law schools have decided to come in and do a lot of the footwork to begin to work that process for these organizations that have been overworked. Their grants are running out or they’re limited.
Here in California, we have the best groundwork of everybody here because we have a state that pretty much is supportive of immigrants as it is and stuff. So what’s happening is we’re trying to find or put together a plan here. We call it on the back of our shirts, bringing them back and build them up initiative. That is to help the process so that we cover … That person isn’t stressed about having to get back here, worrying about what their housing is, worrying about all these things, while they’re still trying to set aside their criminal background. Because unlike David, David’s situation was … And even that came out difficult. David’s situation was he had no crime. They said, “Okay, we’re flying you back here to do your naturalization interview. You’re going to do it one week after you get back here.” He goes and does it. That was September 13th and we just … We’ve been waiting this whole time to hear what’s going on. What’s the situation? Where in most cases, it’s done that same day or the very next day. You know?
So we discovered, when we were doing this, we’re discovering that, okay, you can’t that this is going to happen this way. Some certain things can go ahead and put you off. We got a cat, Pablo Dilbert. He has a family where he’s got a son that has a neurological condition that’s back there in Honduras. He’s trying to get his thing done. He’s five months into his humanitarian parole which means he only got a little over six months left. And they’re just now getting ready to give him a working permit so he can be able to begin to do these things. So to anyone utilizing the process, really humanitarian parole without having a lawyer that’s going to deal with the criminal element is …
The only good for it is to come back here and get your benefits taken care of, visit your family for a hot second, and then get back. The problem that sucks is a lot of these guys are giving up their homes that they’ve made for the past 10 or 15 years in the countries that they’re at, their jobs and careers, with the hope, not knowing, until … Well in our group, we know because I tell them every … I remind them every week. Look. When they’re like, “Why is this and that?” And I’m understanding you are trying to see. You’re seeing the people coming back and it looks like all this other stuff. But if you notice, all you hear them saying is humanitarian parole. You do not hear them saying citizenship. And this whole thing is about citizenship. But they’re making you focus on humanitarian parole as saying, “We’re doing something.” Is it better than what was there? Yes.
But I liken it to a general basically finding out that he’s got a platoon that’s stranded out in the desert and they need supplies. And he’s in front of a bunch of mics and he goes, “You know what? I’m going to make sure my men are taken care of and their food, they’re fed, and they’ve got the supplies that they need.” And then you wind up finding out later that somebody showed up there with two boxes of Ritz crackers and a two liter bottle of water. That was all they were able to get. But they going to put the spin on this as like, “Yes, we got them nourishment and we got them something out there.” Yeah, did you get them more than what they had? Yeah. But really, what the hell was a two liter bottle of water and these crackers going to do? That’s what I liken this whole situation to.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow. That’s … I mean I don’t even know what to say about half of this stuff because it’s like, it’s so new to me. And I know that there have been folks trying to bring attention to this for a long time. So I’m just … I’m really appreciative of you all coming on and talking about the issues to try and help people understand what’s going on. Are there things that you want to … Do you want to say anything Imo-jah or David as we close out to … And then I’ll let James have the last word on what Black veterans of America is about and what they’re doing and how people can get in contact.
Imo-jah Desouza: I would just follow with that I think this whole situation is insane. I think that the government just looks at people as a number and they don’t really consider the fact that you have family, you have people who really care about you here. And it’s just sad. I miss my dad. I’m almost 30-years-old now and a daddy’s girl and so I want to see my dad here. My dad came to America at 12-years-old. America is his home regardless of where he was actually born at. And so he’s hoping that he’s able to come back.
Another layer of this that I just want to touch on really quickly is mental health. That’s another thing that people do not shed light on. You go back there, people are depressed and all types of mental illnesses that you deal with on top of PTSD from serving in the Army and the other issues associated with being in the Army. And I know for a fact that my dad is depressed about his living situations. Because Jamaica, people see the Montego Bay and see this beautiful country. It is a very beautiful country but in some areas, it looks like a third-world country. But people don’t think about that because it’s out of sight, out of mind. And so it’s just really messed up that the government allows people to go back to live in such conditions after they’ve spent their time fighting for the country.
Melyssa Barrett: For sure. David?
David Bariu: We ignore the fact that this country is a nation built by migrants. And with our outdated immigration policies, they must be modernized and not be undermined by political bureaucracy that channels hate and racism across the board. Our leaders in Congress should not entertain the deportation of US veterans because it does put us in harm’s way and also exposes the discrimination of people of color despite serving, protecting the Constitution and laws of our Founding Fathers.
We should also help deported US veterans get back as soon as possible by bringing awareness through Black Deported Veterans of America. With the initiative to bring them back and build them up. Make the transition process reliable and readily available to deported US veterans before and after reentering the United States.
Melyssa Barrett: Well-said. Well-said. So James, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how people get in contact with Black Deported Veterans of America? And I know you have … You’re also … The group is a channel to other deported veterans groups as well. So how can folks get in touch?
James Smith: Okay. Well we have a website, blackdeportedveteransofamerica.com. And if you go there, we also have a link to contact us or basically to contact me, right now. Looks pretty good but it’s really in its basic infancy for a website. But it has a lot of … It has information on there, some of the people that we work with and events that we’ve shared with. There are videos on there that are educational to teach you one, about the deported veteran issue and also to teach you a bit about H.R. 7946 from Mr. Takano. It’s one of his town halls.
And then you also have testimonies from people like Imo-jah and her brother and from Jean’s family. Jean is a cat that’s in Haiti that he suffered … One of his sons committed suicide while he’s been gone. Daughter wound up getting into gangs. And these are all things that his family can also attribute to the fact that he sent there because he had a good relationship with them prior to being deported. So it’s one of the things that messes with.
So what we’re trying to do is push the legislation issue for H.R. 7946 to pass because it’s the first one of all the bills that have been out there that actually has made it out of the subcommittees and is into the House. As far as I’m concerned, it sets a precedent for us to be able to go forward from. Can it be better? Yes. But it does set a precedent for us to be able to go from.
We partner with other organizations like We Patriate our Patriots in El Paso, Texas. Green Card Veterans in Chicago, Illinois. A Unified Deported Veterans in TJ and Deported Veterans Support House which is run by Hector Barajas that is … Normally you would know it from TJ but he’s resettling it here in San Diego. And then we work with other … There are other individual organizations or people that are becoming involved. Our blessing was that we reached out in January and connected to the NAACP and so we’re looking for more of the Black organizations to raise more awareness through our Black leadership, the Black Caucus so that they are part of this and not just keep seeing the Hispanic Caucus. Because when you go and do your research on this, you’re going to see Hispanic Caucuses there about everything. But we don’t have representation there. And in that video, that’s what I bring up. If you don’t know you got skin in the game, there’s no reason for you to play a part. So …
Melyssa Barrett: Right. All right. Well thank you so much, all of you. I really appreciate you coming on and I mean best wishes to your father, Imo-jah and to David. I know you’re in the midst of it as well. And just thank you for the work that you’re doing James. Not only really for all of your service, to all of you, but for all of this that you now have to go through. It boggles my mind a little bit.
So I hope we can raise a little more awareness about the issue and certainly James, as you mentioned, the legislation that is out there. And representation goes a long way. So thank you all for being here.
James Smith: One of the other things to get help, I’m sure you got, is media content. Share this with them because a lot of them, when they hear deported veterans, all they’re thinking of are our Latin brothers. And they’re well, that story’s been done, that story’s been done. I’ve tried my damnedest to give this to a Black media outlet because we’re supposed to tell our story. And it just, for whatever reason, we’re not blessed with enough people like you to go, “Aye, yo, no, no, we need to do a show on that.” So if you can share this with your other peers and colleagues that we are available to tell this story.
I think it’s important to have people like Imo-jah on there because very few people hear the side of the family and what they’ve lost. That’s an awareness that needs to be raised even more. In my interview with her, oh my God. If you go … Go to the site and you see her clip. Her and her brother break it down in a way where it’s like you see what one person, removing one person, can affect families exponentially. So please, go to that website, blackdeportedveteransofamerica.com and check it out.
And again, our contact information is there. And we are available to help pass this word, to raise awareness. We have a donate button there so don’t be afraid not to donate on there. And we’ll be putting our T-shirts up there pretty soon too for donations and purchases.
Melyssa Barrett: All right. Thank you again. Appreciate you on the Jolly Podcast. So look forward to hearing good news at some point.
James Smith: Most definitely. Thank you very much.
Melyssa Barrett: Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.