11/21/2012 10:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

US Vets With Green Cards, Deported After Serving Prison Sentence

Meet deported Vietnam combat veteran Hector Barrios. Barrios was deported to Mexico due to a criminal conviction related to possession of marijuana. Today, he lives in an impoverished section of Tijuana, where he works at a taco stand and earns a few dollars a week.

Here's Barrios, in his own words. This interview was recorded in 2012 on the weekend before Veteran's Day:

Hundreds or possibly thousands of military veterans have been deported for life from the United States. No one knows exactly how many. No U.S. government agency keeps track.

Should they?

An estimated 70,000 non-citizens served in the U.S. military between 1999 and 2008, according to the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA). They can enlist, as long as they're legal permanent residents with green cards. The CNA says that, once enlisted, non-citizens stay in the military longer than their citizen counterparts.

The Mexico-based organization Banished Veterans estimates the number of deported U.S. military veterans to be between 8,000 and 40,000. They say they have spoken to at least a hundred deported vets who now live in countries including Costa Rica, Italy, Jamaica, Bosnia, and Mexico.

Immigration law reforms implemented in 1996 require the permanent deportation of every non-citizen convicted of a long list of criminal offenses. These offense range from nonviolent crimes like fraud to more serious crimes like murder.

The 1996 changes eliminated judicial discretion in deportation proceedings. Even in cases where a legal permanent resident has a U.S citizen spouse or children and has served in the military, a judge's hands are tied. The person must be deported.

Even if a judge wanted to grant an exception to this deportation rule, she cannot.