Marine Veteran Is Deported to El Salvador

A Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was deported to El Salvador this week after several failed attempts to stay in the United States, where he had lived since he was 3 and had been convicted of several felonies, his lawyer and immigration officials said.The case was another chapter in the contentious debate over how the United States’ immigration system handles military veterans who are not citizens and have been convicted of crimes, leaving them open to deportation.The deported man, Jose Segovia-Benitez, 38, who grew up in Long Beach, California, is in hiding in El Salvador after his removal Wednesday, his lawyer, Roy Petty, said Thursday night. Segovia-Benitez’s background in the U.S. military makes him a target for kidnapping by gangs, Petty said.”He’s a Marine,” Petty said. “He’s tough. He’s been in worse situations before. He’s in good spirits.”Lori K. Haley, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to answer questions about the case, saying in a statement, “Mr. Segovia-Benitez is a citizen of El Salvador who has repeatedly violated the laws of the United States.”Segovia-Benitez was ordered removed in October 2018 and had been held at a detention center in Arizona for about a week before he was deported without advance notice, his lawyer said.Segovia-Benitez suffered a brain injury from an explosive device in Iraq and was honorably discharged from the military in 2004 after serving for five years, Petty said.”He’s been classified by the VA as 70% disabled for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Petty said, adding that his client had not received sufficient treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.While in the military, Segovia-Benitez had applied for naturalization, Petty said, but because of his deployment and his injury, he was unable to complete the process.Segovia-Benitez repeatedly ran into legal trouble over the years. His felony convictions included assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and narcotics possession, and he was sentenced to eight years in prison for corporal injury to a spouse.Petty said that people with traumatic brain injuries are more likely to act erratically.Carlos Luna, president of Green Card Veterans, an organization that works on behalf of veterans who are at risk of deportation or under removal orders, said Thursday: “The communities where these men and women come from are overpoliced. They are judged more harshly than other Americans.”He added, “Veterans are no exception to any of these. In fact, we see an increased rate of veterans within our justice system.”There is little data on how often veterans are deported, Luna said. The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in June that said ICE had developed policies for handling cases of veterans who are not citizens and may face deportation, but the agency does not consistently adhere to those policies, and it does not consistently track the veterans.Segovia-Benitez was ordered deported Oct. 10, 2018, and he appealed his case with the Board of Immigration Appeals, which was denied, ICE said. He also filed two stay requests with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and those requests were also denied, according to the agency.Segovia-Benitez had nearly been deported Oct. 16 of this year, according to Petty. He was pulled off a plane bound for El Salvador after his lawyer contacted ICE arguing that his immigration case should be reopened. Segovia-Benitez was sent to the ICE facility in Arizona, where he was held until Wednesday.Segovia-Benitez’s deportation was reported Wednesday by The Orange County Register, which had covered his case extensively.Efforts to stop Segovia-Benitez’s deportation had reached Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who was asked to consider a pardon on an expedited basis, Petty said, adding that the governor was still weighing it.Vicky Waters, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said his office was “unable to discuss individual pardon applications but can assure that each application receives careful and individualized consideration.”Segovia-Benitez’s deportation added him to the list of deported people who have made national headlines after being deported to countries they had never visited or had left as children.Miguel Perez-Montes, an Army veteran who arrived in the United States legally when he was 8 and served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, was deported to Mexico in early 2018 after his application for citizenship was denied because of a 2010 felony drug conviction.Other deportation stories involving veterans have ended differently. Marco A. Chavez, a Marine veteran who was deported to Mexico in 2002, was allowed to return in 2017.Petty said he was still trying to reopen Segovia-Benitez’s immigration case. “We’re still able to present evidence showing that his life is in danger in El Salvador because of his service in the U.S. Marines,” he said, adding that criminal defense lawyers are also working to reopen his criminal cases.Petty said it was “impossible to know” how long it could take to resolve Segovia-Benitez’s case.”Immigration could still choose to leave him outside of the country,” he said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company