WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-3), Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41), and Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51) introduced?the Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act of 2019 to prevent noncitizen veterans from being deported, improve tracking of noncitizen veterans in immigration proceedings, and bring certain eligible deported veterans back home.
“We must put an end to the tragedy of deporting veterans who have put their lives on the line to serve the country they love,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva. “The legislation honors the sacrifices of immigrant veterans and their families, stops their deportation, and brings home those already deported so that they can access the benefits they fought for. Anyone who wore the uniform of our armed forces and served time for any wrongdoing deserves a place in our country instead of facing the horrors and trauma of deportation and separation from the ones they love.”
“It’s true, immigrant veterans are falling through the cracks of our broken immigration system and being deported, and it’s a disgrace,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “Deporting veterans denies them the ability to remain in the country they call home and prevents them from accessing the benefits they earned and are still eligible for under the law. Congress must correct this grave injustice and this legislative package can get us closer to achieving that. Thank you to Representatives Vargas and Grijalva for calling attention to this important issue and for working diligently to restore honor to these veterans.”
“It is clear that our nation’s immigration system is failing when our veterans, who served to defend our freedoms, are being sent to a country that is foreign to them without access to the benefits they rightfully earned,” said Rep. Juan Vargas. “Just as these service members fought for our nation, we must now fight for them. I am proud to be working with my colleagues, Rep. Takano and Rep. Grijalva, to establish a system that identifies and tracks noncitizen servicemembers, ensures a path to citizenship for those that are eligible, and gives officials the guidance and tools they need to properly handle cases involving potentially removable veterans.”
Legal permanent residents are allowed to serve in our military, and systemic failures across many levels of our government have led to an unknown number of noncitizen veterans to be deported from the country they risked their lives to defend. Many deported veterans believed their service automatically conferred citizenship upon them, and often times, the military does not provide immigrant recruits clear information or guidance on the naturalization process. Because of this failure to disseminate information and gaps in the law, many veterans have been deported to a country they do not call home.
The Department of Defense estimates that there are approximately 25,000 noncitizens currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
This legislation is a comprehensive reform package that would implement critical reforms across agencies for noncitizen veterans and prevent their deportation. The legislative effort would specifically direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a program and application process to allow eligible deported veterans residing outside of the United States to return to the country as noncitizens lawfully admitted for permanent residence. The package also calls for the Department of Defense (DOD) and DHS to jointly establish a program to ensure members of the Armed Services and their spouses and children have a pathway to citizenship.
Currently we lack consistent statistics on the scope and magnitude of the deportation of U.S. military veterans. Under this bill, the Departments of Defense, Veterans’ Affairs, and Homeland Security would be mandated to conduct a joint study and report on all of the veterans that have been deported in the past two decades. In June, the Government Accountability Office found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not been tracking the number of veterans who have been deported, or been adhering to internal policies regarding potentially removable veterans. This study would allow Congress to better understand how many veterans have been forcibly removed.
The Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act of 2019:
- Requires DHS to maintain data on potentially removable noncitizen veterans. The DHS Secretary would be directed to establish an annual training program for ICE personnel on handling noncitizen veterans.
- Directs DHS to establish a Military Family Immigration Advisory Committee that would provide recommendations on whether an individual should be granted a stay of removal, deferred action, parole, or be removed from the country.
- Provides a pathway of citizenship for spouses and children of members of the Armed Services through a joint program between DOD and DHS.
- Requires DHS to establish a program and application procedure that allows eligible veterans to be admitted as noncitizens lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Also directs the Attorney General to reopen any removal proceedings of each noncitizen veteran issued and where appropriate, rescind any orders of removal already issued.