Cesar Lopez dips a roller in black paint and glides it across a wall outside his house in the west Las Vegas Valley. Chickens cluck in the backyard near a flagpole topped by a red U.S. Marine Corps flag that’s waving slightly against the blazing sun.
Lopez was working last week to complete a mural, his tribute to U.S. military service members who have been deported to their native Mexico after getting in legal trouble in the United States.
For now, the only way for the veteran deportees to legally return to the U.S. is when they die and their remains are transported back here for a military funeral.
Or, they can also do what Lopez did after being deported in 2012: Embark on a treacherous and possibly deadly hike across the U.S.-Mexico border to sneak back into the United States illegally.
Lopez, a U.S. Marine veteran who was born in Mexico then came to the U.S. as a child in the 1980s, was deported about eight years ago after a 12-year-old marijuana conviction was discovered during a customs check on a return trip from Central America.
“Guys, we were willing to die for our country,” Lopez said he told other U.S. military veterans deported in Mexico. “I’m willing to die for my family.”
While most undocumented immigrants might hover in the shadows of society amid fear of being deported, Lopez is in the open and actively coordinates with elected officials and presidential candidates with hopes of helping bring about change for deported veterans.
During the lead-up to this year’s Nevada presidential caucuses, he spoke to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg about the veterans’ plight. He also got the attention of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, who form the Democratic ticket challenging