SAN JUAN, RGV – U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez says he is looking for Republican members of Congress to co-author legislation to help veterans who have been deported.
The McAllen Democrat says he believes more than 1,400 veterans have been deported for minor infringements in recent years, mostly to Mexico and Central American countries.
“I am looking for a Republican colleague to join me in this effort. It is the most American thing to do. To take of our veterans who fought for us. Many were highly decorated veterans that were in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of them came hope with high levels of PTSD. We didn’t offer them the mental healthcare they needed to transition them back into society,” Gonzalez said.
“These are folks who have never had any legal trouble in their life. They were discharged honorably. They get into a little trouble and they are deported.”
Asked how many there were, Gonzalez said: “About 1,400. Mostly to Mexico and Central America. There is a community living in Baja California.”
Gonzalez, a freshman congressman, said that when he got to Washington, D.C., he was shocked to learn veterans have been deported.
“Nobody talks about it. We need to bring more attention to it. It is a real indictment on our country to deport people who have defended us. If you fought for this country, you certainly deserve to live in it.”
Gonzalez said he hopes “understanding” Republicans, such as U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of San Antonio, will be interested in his veterans’ legislation. “I intend to camp out on the other side of the aisle for about a week to see how much support I can garner. We need sponsorship from both sides to get things passed.
Gonzalez made his comments in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian following an immigration town hall meeting and news conference he held with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at La Unión del Pueblo Entero on Saturday.
During the interview, Gonzalez also spoke about his goal of mobilizing more Hispanics to vote in the Rio Grande Valley and in Texas as a whole.
“Elections have consequences. We need to have a big push to register people to vote and then get them out to vote when it is time,” Gonzalez said. He pointed to the success Hispanics had in California in the 1990s.
Proposition 187 was a Republican measure on the November 8, 1994 general election ballot in California. It sought to make undocumented immigrants ineligible for public benefits. Although the measure passed it was never enforced. Latino civil rights groups say hostility to Prop. 187 by the Latino community helped turn California ‘blue.’
“It worked in California, with Hispanic opposition to Proposition 187. My friend, Congressman Vargas from California, tells me that at least twice a week. He said he walked around with a stack of registration forms and he got an army of people to work with him and eventually they registered 10,000 new voters and they turned California ‘blue’.”
Asked what issue could spur Hispanics to vote in much greater numbers in Texas, Gonzalez said: “I am thinking this should be one issue, the divisions that are happening in Latino communities across the country. And all the negative rhetoric (towards Mexico and Mexican Americans). It is so un-American and it sounds pretty awful.”
Asked if his voter Latino voter mobilization campaign could be as successful as that waged in California, Gonzalez said: “I believe it can. If we have a concerted effort. I thought it would happen in last year’s presidential election but I think people took that election for granted.”
McAllen immigration attorney Carlos Garcia spoke at the immigration town hall meeting Rep. Gonzalez organized. Asked later if Rep. Gonzalez’s ideas for voter mobilization might work, Garcia said: “Yes. The Republicans are in total control right now but that does not mean we cannot be active, that we can’t resist. It is extremely important that we do. As one of the community members said, if we don’t do it, who else is going to do it for us? It is really important we get involved.”