Born a mile south of the U.S.-Mexico border in a nunnery in Nogales, Sonora, deported U.S. Navy veteran Alex Murillo came to Phoenix in 1978 as a baby in his mother’s arms. But just after Christmas 2011, he was returned to Tijuana shackled at the wrists and ankles after serving 37 months for a cannabis bust. He thought that after he had done his time at California’s Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution, he would go home to his two sons and two daughters, ages 5 to 14. Instead, he was processed for deportation directly from the prison, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has an on-site office.
“On the whole ride from the prison to the border, I still had hope,” Murillo says. “Every time the van stopped to pick up another deportee, I was sure someone would come on board, point at me and say, ‘Not that guy—he’s a veteran.’” It was around midnight when they pulled up to the border fence. As Murillo stepped out of the van, still wearing prison garb with the $120 cash refund from his prison commissary account sewed into a seam, reality dawned: With his next step he’d be in exile from the country he’d been willing to die for.
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