REEDLEY, California — For years, Marine Corps veteran Enrique Salas sought to return to the United States after he was deported to Mexico.
On Friday, he finally made it back when he was laid to rest in a California cemetery.
Salas, 47, was buried with military honors in the San Joaquin Valley city of Reedley, where he attended high school before enlisting in the Marines, the Fresno Bee reported.
He died on April 12 after suffering serious injuries in a car accident in Tijuana, Mexico, where he had been living. Salas was transported across the border for treatment at a San Diego hospital but had a heart attack on the way there.
“This is a bad way to get back to the states,” said Fred Martinez, Salas’ cousin.
Salas came to the United States with his family when he was six. He served in the Marines and was honorably discharged after serving four years active duty and in the Persian Gulf War.
He became subject to deportation after a 2004 drug conviction and was arrested at a border checkpoint while returning to the U.S. from a family trip to Mexico in 2006.
He re-entered the country and was deported two more times. He was also prosecuted on a federal charge of illegal re-entry and sentenced to 18 months in prison, the newspaper reported.
Ricardo Franco, chairman of the Committee on Deported Veterans under the Veterans Caucus of the California Democratic Party, said roughly 200 to 300 deported U.S. veterans are alive and known to the committee.
Hector Barajas, a former U.S. Army paratrooper who was deported in Mexico in 2010 but became a U.S. citizen this month, was among the 150 people who attended a funeral Mass for Salas on Friday.
Barajas founded the Deported Veterans Support Home in Tijuana and received a pardon last year from California Gov. Jerry Brown for a 2002 conviction for shooting at an occupied vehicle. He had long hoped a similar scenario would one day happen for Salas.
“He was one of the guys who was going to be able to come home,” Barajas said.