A once-undocumented U.S. Marine — and Iraq war veteran — is now an American citizen.

Daniel Torres, 30, was sworn in Thursday afternoon at the U.S. Customs and Immigration building in downtown San Diego.

Torres was born in Tijuana, but came to the United States with his family when he was 15. After his family’s visas expired, they stayed on in the country. Torres joined the military partly because he wanted to gain his citizenship, and partly because he wanted to serve the United States — a country that he says he has felt was his home since he first arrived.

Torres joined the Marines in 2007, with the help of an enthusiastic military recruiter and a faked birth certificate. He was quickly sent to Iraq. After his unit returned to the United States, Torres lost his wallet — and at that point, everything fell apart. When the Department of Motor Vehicles looked into his records, it discovered that he had used falsified documents to enlist.

Technically, Torres wasn’t deported. Instead, he found himself unable to re-enlist in the military as he had planned, unable to find work and unable to take out loans or receive grants to go to school. Finally, Torres moved to Tijuana.

The process by which Torres found himself back in the country in which he was born, unable to find work or go to school, is known as “attrition by enforcement,” or “soft deportation.”

Torres found work in Mexico at a call center and started going to school. He has family in Tijuana, so he wasn’t completely alone. But his immediate family and friends remained in the United States, and the U.S. is where he wanted to be.

About a year ago, Torres found “the Bunker,” the unofficial nickname for the Deported Veterans Support House, in Tijuana. The Bunker is run by Hector Barajas, a deported U.S. Army paratrooper who has been working for years to bring attention to the plight of those who served, were honorably discharged, and then ended up in the country of their birth — a country that most undocumented people left when they were too young to remember much about it.

It was at the Bunker that Torres caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, and met ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella. With the organization’s help, he filed an application for citizenship in January.

Three months later, he was crossing into the United States for the first time in five years. A day after that, Torres stood in a tiny room in downtown San Diego with Pasquarella at his side, taking the oath of citizenship.

Photo by Brooke Binkowski
Photo by Brooke Binkowski
Photo by Brooke Binkowski
Photo by Brooke Binkowski

“I’m one of the very few people to actually be able to cross back,” Torres said. “We know there’s another deported veteran who got his residency, and there’s been other deported residents who come back dying, or dead.”

His return could potentially open the door for other honorably discharged — but deported — veterans to come back to the country they think of as their own. While the Bunker says they have personally located hundreds of deported veterans like themselves all over the world, the United States keeps no official record of military veterans who were deported to the countries of their birth.

Now that Torres has received his citizenship, he plans to finish law school in Mexico, then go through a program to be certified as a lawyer in the United States.

The Air Down There

San Ysidro residents have long grappled with the health effects of living near one of the world’s busiest border crossings, where cars and trucks can idle for hours.

But now that the U.S. government is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding the Port of Entry, residents are getting more aggressive in their attempts to study and mitigate the air they breathe.

That includes spearheading their own air-pollution study, VOSD contributor H.G. Reza reports.

Officials say the expanded crossing won’t worsen the air quality because it will cut down on the time cars sit idling. But residents aren’t buying that.

 Significantly more Americans are walking into Mexico at San Ysidro: 50 percent of people crossing are U.S. citizens, compared with 38 percent in 2011. (La Prensa San Diego; link in Spanish)

Chicano Park’s Past and Future

Lowriders, art, music, folklórico and food were featured in Barrio Logan on Saturday at its 46th annual Chicano Park Day. The free street fair among the murals that adorn the pillars of the Coronado Bay Bridge is a celebration of San Diego’s particular history and border-flavored culture.

Photo by Brooke Binkowski
Photo by Brooke Binkowski

Chicano Park was born in 1970. Barrio Logan was a working-class Mexican-American neighborhood, also called “el ombligo,” meaning the navel, or the center. For many years, families lived, worked and raised children in its quiet streets.

When Interstate 5 was built through the middle of the community in 1963, many people were permanently displaced; a few years later, in 1969, the Coronado Bridge displaced still more. Community members asked San Diego for some land for a park, so that their children could still have a place to play. The city agreed to lease a parcel of land under the bridge for a park. It then reneged on the promise and leased the land to the state, which began to build a California Highway Patrol substation there.

The bulldozers appeared on April 22, 1970. When residents discovered they were grading not for a park but for a substation, they organized a peaceful protest. They formed a human chain around the bulldozers, and planted trees and bushes among the pylons. Twelve days of occupation later, the city and state reached an agreement and the people got Chicano Park.

At around the same time, the Mexican mural movement had crossed the border and Chicano muralism was becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Several young artists, such as Salvador Torres, Mario Torero and Victor Ochoa, decided to commemorate the history of the park (and the history of Mexican-Americans in general) by painting murals on the pylons beneath the Coronado Bridge, giving Chicano Park the distinctive history and vibrant outdoor art it still has today.

And as VOSD’s Kinsee Morlan reported last week, the Chicano Park Steering Committee wants to preserve this history in a museum.

News Roundup

Another drug-smuggling tunnel — the longest one ever found, with ventilation, lighting and even an elevator — was discovered in Otay Mesa last week. (New York Times)

The Justice Department released some photos of the elaborate tunnel:

Photo courtesy of DOJ
Photo courtesy of DOJ
Photo courtesy of DOJ
Photo courtesy of DOJ

• Mexican health care provider SIMNSA will spearhead a binational hospital — the first of its kind — co-branded as an affiliate of the Scripps Health Network, to serve people who live in one country and work in another. (Imperial Valley News)

• The mayors of San Diego and Tijuana have announced the creation of a new binational initiative aimed at strengthening cross-border trade and investment. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

• San Diego State University students have teamed up with the city of Tijuana to help redesign two public parks, in a project called Comuniparquest. (SDSU)

• Speaking of SDSU, it’s the only university in the United States that offers classes in Mexico (it also satisfies “study abroad” requirements.) (The Daily Aztec)

• You can find free opera at CECUT through April 28: (Tijuana Press; link in Spanish)

 Jumping the U.S.-Mexico border to watch soccer with “el Gringo Xolo.” (goal.com)

Brooke Binkowski is a backpack reporter who has been covering the U.S.-Mexico border for many years. Find her on Twitter at @brooklynmarie.

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