The U.S. government does not have a policy to protect American veterans who are legal residents but not U.S. citizens so when they run into legal problems, these heroes are being deported back to their original countries.
Ramon Castro, a U.S. veteran, started walking a 2,000-mile trek Monday morning — from Friendship Park in San Ysidro to the end of the U.S. border near Brownville, Texas — to honor deported veterans.
Americans have been forcing military veterans who served in uniform to leave the country for decades but the world has taken little note of the plight of those heroes when they fell into the grips of the cruel immigration system.
That system was made more inhumane during the last presidential administration, but deportation of veterans is nothing new.
“My family thinks I’m crazy,” Castro says. But he is letting his feet do the talking, as well as the walking.
Castro is a Brawley city council member who will join in the twice monthly board meetings via Zoom while on the road, heading east along the border for 1,954 miles and 45 days, until he reaches the eastern end of the U.S. border with Mexico near Brownsville, Texas.
Castro, who served in the Marine Corps for eight years and was in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is walking the border to focus attention on non-citizen U.S. veterans who have been deported for committing crimes.
Often their offenses are minor drug- or alcohol-related crimes, and may be tied to physical and mental disabilities suffered during their military service — PTSD, anxiety, mood disorders, chronic pain, etc.
When deported, they lose access to the VA medical facilities and benefits they earned and, in some cases, desperately needed.
The walk was planned after the death of 52-year-old Erasmo “Mito” Apodaca on Mother’s Day. Apodaca, a green card holder, was deported to Mexico for a 1998 domestic violence incident.
For more than 22 years, Castro says, Apodaca fought for permission to return to the United States, where he grew up and where his extended family lives.
He died in Mexicali, apparently of a heart attack. Only three days earlier, he had received clearance to start the process of returning to the United States, Castro notes. The upcoming U.S hearing was set for July. It was too late.
“He suffered from PTSD and needed physical and mental health treatment, and he wasn’t able to receive it in Mexico,” Castro says.
Every Memorial Day, Castro and his friends walk 7.5 miles through Brawley to honor departed U.S. military and veterans. As he did this three weeks ago, Apodaca’s death weighed heavily on his mind.
“The idea came up during the walk. I wanted to do something impactful to bring about the change we are seeking,” he says. So the 45-day border trek, “Walk the Line: A March to Bring Our Deported Veterans Home,” is dedicated to Apodaca. “He is the one who inspired it. If he had been helped sooner, and if he had access to V.A. medical care, he might still be around.”
Along the route, Castro will stop and give talks in major towns, visit American Legion posts and walk across the border to tour two Mexico shelters that serve deported U.S. veterans.
“They should all be pardoned because, if not for this failed system, they would be American citizens, and we would not be talking about it. It’s a real embarrassment … that we just discard them in that manner.”
Castro was born in and raised in Brawley, California. After graduating from Brawley Union High School, Ramon joined the United States Marine Corps.
He served two terms of enlistment and concluded his military career serving his final in Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He completed a five-year apprenticeship and is a graduate of San Diego/Imperial County Electrical Institute
Castro has been a community activist in support of military veteran’s issues. His work earned him the Distinguished Recognition as Assembly District 56 Veteran of the Year in 2015.
He has also served on many community boards including the Brawley Planning Commission, San Diego Imperial County Electrical Institute Board of Directors, Imperial County Veterans Advisory Committee, Imperial County Air Resource Board and the Hidalgo Society.
Castro currently serves as the President of the Veterans Honor Wall Committee, Executive Board Member of American Legion Post 60 and spearheads the annual Veterans Benefits Seminar.
Castro first became interested in serving on City Council because of his many years of work in organized labor and the construction industry. He strongly believes that a well-educated, well-trained and skilled populace is the most important aspect of a strong economy.
Castro was recently elected to the Brawley City Council in 2020 and he operates his own Small Business Owner/SPM Residential as a Home Inspector.
Ramon and his wife Natalie have three children Ramon, Kaitlyn and Kassandra. Ramon’s oldest daughters Marisol and Maribel are currently attending San Diego State University and Imperial Valley College.