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Deported veteran files for U.S. citizenship with the help of Yale law clinic

People make mistakes all the time, but one mistake shouldn’t define the rest of your life; believes an Iraq war vet deported after a felony conviction.

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Chihuahua — People make mistakes all the time, but one mistake shouldn’t define the rest of your life. That’s what Ivan Ocon believes, an Iraq war veteran whose mistake cost him his daughter, family and country. Everything he’s now trying to get back.

Right out of high school, Ocon, now 44, joined the U.S. Military. He’d been living in the U.S. since he was 7 years old. He told KENS 5, he had a green card through his mom.

“Citizenship was the last thing on my mind,” Ocon told KENS 5 from his home in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. “When I enlisted, I enlisted as a duty to my country.”

Ocon said he served seven years and was a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I came back from deployment and I started going through a lot of problems emotionally mentally, just different things adding up,” Ocon told KENS 5.

He was discharged and got caught up in some bad stuff that ended up with a 10-year federal prison sentence.

“[In] 2006, I was a convicted of a felony for aiding and abetting to a kidnapping, and brandishing a firearm,” he said.

Ocon told KENS 5 he was released early for good behavior. But his conviction, an aggravated felony at the time, meant the green card holder would be deported to Mexico, where he hasn’t lived since he was a boy. It also meant he was going to be away from his daughter, three-years-old at the time.

“She’s the reason I keep fighting to come back,” Ocon said.

“People who've served in our military tend to incur a lot of mental health or other related disabilities that can make returning to society very difficult,” said Casey Smith, a law student at Yale and part of a team at Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic that’s helping Ocon get back home.

“He was convicted of a kidnapping and firearms charge that accompanied the kidnapping,” Smith said. “Under current law, as it stands, that's no longer an aggravated felony. And so, he should be eligible for naturalization.”

Ocon’s lawyers recently petitioned the government for his U.S. citizenship.

“Mr. Ocon also has shown that he has good moral character,” Smith said. “His very extensive service to his community in Mexico is very extensive work on behalf of other deported veterans. And so, the government should also favorably exercise its discretion.”

“We committed our felonies, we deserve to get deported,” Ocon said. “But they should take our service into consideration.”

If things go his way, Ocon would be able to live in the country he served.

“Just be being able to hold my daughter again, and be with her be there for her,” Ocon said.

Ocon is one of many veterans who’s been deported under different presidents.

But an exact number is not clear. A recent report completed by the office of Senator Tammy Duckworth, (D) Illinois, an Iraq War Veteran, a Purple Heart recipient and a former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, found that the U.S. Government, namely ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) doesn’t keep complete records on veterans it deported.

Duckworth’s spokesperson shared with KENS 5 some other legislative efforts the Senator was efforting in Congress re-introducing several bills to protect and support veterans, as her press release points out.  

In July, President Biden’s administration announced an effort to bring back what it called “unjustly” removed service members. It’s unclear where this effort stands. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) didn’t answer KENS5’s specific questions about the progress of this effort.

In August, DHS’ Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman hosted a webinar on “what is being done to support Non-citizen service members,” as the press release stated. The follow up questions and answers have been posted on line and can be found here.

Ocon is waiting on the U.S. government to respond to his naturalization application.