Community leaders considered ways to stop the deportation of U.S. military veterans at a public forum in Kearny Mesa Tuesday morning.
"The reality is we can't be one as a people when we've left hundreds, if not thousands of people behind," said Nathan Fletcher, a former state assemblyman and chair of the coalition group, "Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported."
The coalition group says they've confirmed that 300 U.S. veterans have been deported. But the group claims the actual number is much higher.
Many immigrant veterans believe that when they serve in the U.S. military, they will automatically become citizens, according to the coalition group. Some are even manipulated into believing this by recruiters.
But immigrants do not automatically become citizens by serving in the U.S. military. They must return to the U.S. and apply to become a citizen.
"The military is not just a part of the economy of San Diego," said Fletcher. "It's a part of the culture of San Diego. It's part of who we are as a people. And at the end of the day, those of us who served and fought, we abide by the premise that everyone comes home. That you leave no one behind."
At the meeting, a common theme was the importance of educating foreign-born veterans about their risk of deportation.
Some veterans may get into trouble with the law after deployment or struggle to rehabilitate into civilian life when they return home. If they develop a criminal record, many foreign-born veterans are deported. That includes some veterans from San Diego.
A short video was shown before the panel discussion about one veteran's experience serving in the U.S. military and being deported to Mexico later after a run-in with the law. He was separated from his daughter living in the U.S.
The coalition estimates there are about 30,000 non-citizen veterans living in San Diego County and Los Angeles.
Other community leaders who attended the event included Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director of the ACLU San Diego and Imperial Counties; Hector Barajas, Director and Founder of Deported Veterans Support House, Rick Reyes of Cal Vet Minority Veterans Division and former deported veteran Daniel Torres.
About 300,000 foreign-born U.S. veterans were living in the U.S. in 2016, according to ACLU California's July 2016 report.