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Marine Corps Veteran Faces Deportation, Says His Crimes Are Linked To PTSD


People who aren't U.S. citizens have always served in the U.S. military - about 90,000 green card holders do right now. It used to be an easy path to citizenship. Now those service members are caught up in the administration's strict enforcement of immigration laws. Even if they fought for the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan, they can be deported if they commit crimes after their military service. Here's NPR's Quil Lawrence with one vet's story.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Jose Segovia came to the United States as a toddler from El Salvador. He grew up in California and then went to high school in Maryland. He always felt like an American, especially after he joined the Marine Corps.

JOSE SEGOVIA: I'm very patriotic. I still would defend the Constitution...

LAWRENCE: Defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. He's quoting from the enlistment oath. It's very similar to the oath for citizenship. But Segovia was calling on a scratchy phone line from ICE detention in Adelanto, Calif. He says Marines all bleed green.

SEGOVIA: We all bleed green, and we are fighting for this country. We are American. And we're all the same.

LAWRENCE: We're Americans. We're all the same, he said. Except he isn't being treated the same as if he were a U.S. citizen. For a year and a half, he's been sharing a crowded detention cell awaiting deportation. Naturalization used to be a routine result of U.S. military service, now it takes more effort. Segovia thinks some of the paperwork for his application was lost while he was in Iraq.

SEGOVIA: I remember giving them my green card, taking passport pictures, turning in my application.

LAWRENCE: He remembers getting passport photos, starting the process of becoming a citizen, but he doesn't know what became of it.

SEGOVIA: To later found out that all that was for nothing.

LAWRENCE: Segovia came home from combat in Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, according to his VA records. And his family says he was different.

MARTA GARCIA: My son, when he come back from there, he's not the same.

LAWRENCE: That's his mother, Marta Garcia, and his sister, Gladys Garcia.

GLADYS GARCIA: No, my brother did not have any criminal issues prior to his service and his PTSD issues after war.

LAWRENCE: After his time at war, Segovia racked up convictions for drug possession, domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon. Research has linked PTSD to domestic violence - not in the majority of cases, but significantly. Segovia served four years in prison, but then ICE officials were waiting for him upon his release. His sister says the family has no real connections left in El Salvador, and he doesn't deserve deportation.

G GARCIA: He's done his time. He's paid. You know what I'm saying? And then for him to have to deal with also possibly being removed from a country that he's been in since he was 3 years old, you know, where he doesn't know anything else. This is his home. This is his country. He served this country. He went to war. Like, why is that not taken into account?

LAWRENCE: It's a question that some in Congress are asking as well. There are bills in the House to prohibit deporting vets, to bring back more citizenship services on military bases and even to protect the spouses of veterans from deportation. The Trump administration has taken a hard line and proposed a de facto ban on people with green cards from serving in the military. That was blocked by a court last November and is pending appeal with the 9th Circuit this summer. Jose Segovia is also waiting on an appeal, but the Marine veteran says he's struggling.

SEGOVIA: There's moments where, at times, I've always felt that I shouldn't have made it back here. I should have passed on over there to the next life.

LAWRENCE: Passed on to the next life. That maybe wasn't clear on the phone line. Segovia says he feels like he should have died at war. And he added that, given his situation now, he wouldn't have minded that. Dealing with PTSD in prison was bad and worse now, he says. The Adelanto Detention Center has been called out by the state of California and the inspector general of Homeland Security for poor medical and especially mental health care. His mom and sister visit when they can, but they're worried.

G GARCIA: He was, like, in the shower, and he could smell, like, burning flesh. So he, like, freaked out a little bit because he obviously knows that that's not what's happening in there. And, like, he, like, was asking, like, other people, like, can you smell that, you know, kind of thing?

And obviously, it's just his PTSD. He doesn't sleep at night. He just kind of naps throughout the day. But he does not fully sleep, like, in there at all. It's worrisome for my mom. She's always worried.

M GARCIA: You know, after my son served this country, it's not fair, you know, what he's been through.

LAWRENCE: ICE officials at Adelanto told NPR that Segovia was under a deportation order because he was a noncitizen guilty of multiple felonies. His appeal to stay in the U.S. will likely be heard this summer. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.