By Luis Treto
They risked their lives to defend the United States, serving for years in the armed forces, sometimes in combat.
But now hundreds, possibly thousands, of veterans like Ekaterina Bautista are on the brink of being deported.
"Since 2009 until now, we have been trying to have my citizenship granted, especially because I served in combat in Iraq," Bautista told NBC4's sister station Telemundo 52 in a report that aired Wednesday.
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of California titled "Discharged, Then Discarded" documented the deportation of 84 veterans, who were all deported or in the process of being deported, for minor offenses such as the one committed by Mario Martinez.
"It was a criminal case of domestic violence," Martinez said.
The report from the ACLU of California states although many of the deported veterans qualified for U.S. citizenship, the federal government failed to give them the tools and resources to process their legal residency.
"We are asking them to stop these deportations and to make changes to the legal system," says ACLU immigration attorney Jennie Pasquarella.
According to the ACLU, some veterans alleged they received erroneous information from recruiters promising them citizenship if they enlisted in the armed forces.
Additionally, a change in immigration law in 1996 expanded the list of crimes that lead to deportation.
"All of my life I have acted well. This was one thing that became a problem that only happened one time," Martinez said.
According to the Center of Naval Analyses, from 1999 to 2008, more than 70,000 undocumented immigrants were enlisted in the armed forces, and less than half managed to gain citizenship.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assures any deportation of a veteran must be approved by a judiciary counsel from a corresponding office.
ICE authorities say they consider military background as a positive factor before making a determination in a deportation case.