LOS ANGELES – The federal government’s failure to help naturalize immigrants serving in the U.S. military has led to the deportation of untold numbers of veterans, all of whom were entitled to become citizens because of their service, according to a report released today by the ACLU of California.
The report, "Discharged, Then Discarded, found that deported veterans were in the U.S. legally and sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam. Once they returned from service, however, they were subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.
"By requiring deportation and stripping immigration courts of the power to consider military service, the United States government abandons these veterans by expelling them to foreign countries at the moment when they most need the government’s help to rehabilitate their lives after service," said Bardis Vakili, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of California. "This is a tragic and disgraceful example of how broken our immigration system is."
Much of the current problem dates back to punitive laws enacted nearly 20 years ago, and lawmakers' unwillingness to fix a broken immigration system that has led to the deportation of veterans, torn families apart and left many living in fear.
For veterans, all of whom served their time for their criminal convictions, deportation is a lifetime punishment that never would have happened if the government had ensured their right to be naturalized. The consequences of deportation include lack of access to necessary VA medical benefits that all veterans are entitled to regardless of immigration status, the report concludes. They suffer permanent separation from their families, including U.S.-born children.
The report also provides key recommendations, including:
- Restoring judicial discretion to allow judges to consider factors such as military service in cases involving deportation.
- Requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to adopt an agency-wide moratorium on and/or presumption against removal of any active-duty U.S. service member or honorably discharged veteran.
- Reopening those naturalization applications that were denied or abandoned because an individual was unable to follow through on the naturalization process as a result of their military service.
- Providing legal representation to active-duty U.S. service members and veterans who are in removal proceedings.
"This reports shows how the federal government has failed these veterans," said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants' rights and senior staff attorney for the ACLU of California. "They were told they were American enough to fight our wars and serve our country, and then deported and discarded. That's unacceptable. The U.S. government must do right by these men and women."