MISSION, Texas — He fought for this country and for a chance to return to what he called home.
Before he was known as a hero to his family, Carlos Torres was a mischievous child who grew to become a selfless man, one who would face many adversities with humor.
"He was always told, 'You’re Mexican.' And over there they would tell him the same thing: 'You’re not Mexican, you’re American,'” recalled Torres’s son, Robert Mosqueda. “He would be just torn apart. So I think he used his humor more than anything to cope with everything.”
Torres was born across the border in Reynosa in 1954. When he was only 10 months old, he was brought legally to Texas where became a resident. He spent much of his formative years between Texas and California before the U.S. government got involved in the Vietnam War, prompting his enlistment in the Army in 1972.
It was then that Torres was assured that his nationality matched his loyalty.
"'Son, the day you signed on that line, you became a citizens'...that was a lie," said Torres's sister, Norma, about his military recruiter.
She said her brother believed he was an American citizen all his life until he was arrested in Houston for possession of marijuana in 1994. Prison time was followed by deportation to Mexico.
“Basically, he was punished for life,” Norma Torres said.
Carlos returned to Texas illegally to be with family, but was caught and deported once again in 2010. This time, it was for good.
“Pretty lonely there… he was pretty lonely in Mexico,” said another of Torres’s sons, Sam Mosqueda.
His seven children would do their best to visit him. Reynosa, however, is considered one of the most dangerous cities on the border for cartel violence.
Carlos and his family fought long to bring him back. Their wish would be granted too late; he died from cardiac arrest Saturday while attending a company Christmas party in Reynosa.
Over the years, lawmakers have tried to repatriate deported veterans through legislation, to unsuccessful ends. Deported veteran groups estimate the number of foreign service members to be in the thousands.
Nowadays, the naturalization process starts at basic training, but not for veterans of past wars.
“You have your hands tied in so many ways,” said the eldest of Torres’s children, Domingo Mosqueda. “There’s so much red tape.”
The family said Torres asked for asylum, veteran benefits and a legal way to return home. They got none of those things.
“What could he do? He couldn’t come here legally so, he was basically merchandise,” Norma said. “Until the law is changed, the only way they’re going to get back is in a coffin.”
And, if they're lucky, with full military honors like Torres had Thursday.
Even after his death, Torres’s family, many of whom are military veterans, including a Customs and Border Protection agent, vow to fight to get him citizenship they feel their hero deserves.