The list is of deported veterans is very long, and it was not created by a situation where there was a momentary lapse in legislation that caused a large, one-time deportation… it’s been going on for decades.
How/Why Did They Serve in the First Place?
A common question is “Can non-citizens even serve in the military?” and, not only is the answer “yes,” but it has also been a focal point of recruitment for military personnel assigned to getting new people to sign up to serve.
Every year, more than 8,000 non-U.S. citizens join the military, which makes up roughly 15% of personnel who enlisted in a given year… a pretty hefty percentage for something that most people (myself included, prior to my service) don’t even know is a thing. There are stipulations, so to say “anyone can join the U.S. military” would be false, but all it requires is for one to be a green card holder, meaning the person is a legal permanent resident of the United States. There are currently 13.2 million green card holders in the U.S., so the pool of non-citizens legally eligible to serve is quite large.
Cue the recruiters of the highest-funded military in the world! (Highest by more than $470 billion annually over China who slides in at second place at $261 billion spent annually.)
In the early stages of one’s military career, a common conversation is “Did your recruiter lie to you?” And the split is about 50/50, yes/no, based on empirical evidence from my years floating around in the ocean. For the 8,000 non-citizens, however, this percentage is a lot higher, mainly due to murky laws surrounding the citizenship paths for service members and veterans.
30 years ago, Bush the elder signed an executive order stating that any military member could immediately apply for citizenship once sworn in. This does not, however, change their eligibility for citizenship in any way, it simply expedites the process. Generally, green card holders must be residents for 5 years before applying for citizenship. With this order, green card-holding servicemembers did not have to wait 5 years.
So, when a recruiter tells a non-citizen that he or she will become a citizen faster if he or she joins the military, that recruiter is right, but only if the individual would have qualified otherwise… and many do not. A poll conducted by U.S. News actually determined that 2/3 of current citizens fail naturalization examinations… meaning it’s not an easy test.
Thus, military service holds no real weight when applying for U.S. citizenship, it simply allows some individuals to apply sooner to likely fail a difficult examination and find themselves right back where they were before dodging bullets in the name of Uncle Sam.
ICE and The Heroes They Deported
This section will take a look at why there are so many American heroes who are not allowed to be American. I hated typing that sentence so much. Most of it starts with ICE, the highly underregulated government agency responsible for the deportation of illegal immigrants (and also one of the least respectable jobs I could possibly imagine… taking kids from their families and deporting veterans are legitimately regular parts of the gig… aim high, ICE, aim high).
In the last decade, legal language put in place to protect non-citizen veterans has been ignored, according to a report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year. “GAO found that ICE did not follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings from 2013-2018.”
It is required that ICE grant NTAs (notices to appear) to any veterans on their watchlists, giving them a chance to defend themselves and speak on their military service. What ICE does not require, however, is that agents ask about veteran status… meaning, that it is up to the person who just had their house or job raided with automatic weapons to think about their military service if they want it to count for anything, not the safety of themselves and their families. Great stuff ICE. Staples of morality, you are.
What this (intentional, in my opinion) ignorance regarding the legal rights that were supposed to be given to non-citizen servicemembers led to, was a whopping 70% of individuals not being told their rights.
Perhaps the most madding quote in this article is that the number of U.S. veterans deported since 2013 has to be estimated at 2,000, because ICE “doesn’t know how many” they have deported. 1 is too many. 2,000 is anti-American, and “unknown” is simply unacceptable. ICE is an absolute embarrassment of an organization and a waste of American dollars.
What’s Being Done?
Since the attacks of September 11, more than 130,000 troops have been naturalized, so it’s definitely not a situation that effects every single non-citizen veteran, but recent sweep initiatives ordered of ICE under the Trump Administration have led to the “unknown” numbers of those veterans who have been deported.
It’s wishful thinking to assume ICE executives will find a moral compass and address this issue internally, so aid lies in educating and lending a hand. Many of these individuals were led to believe that their application is automatically in the system when they sign up for the military. That is not even close to true. They still have to take the same action any other green card holder needs to take to apply for citizenship, they just get to skip the 5-year waiting period. APPLY!
There are also many advocacy groups abroad aimed to help these individuals out, an example being a “bunker” in Tijuana that provides housing and medical care for wounded veterans who were deported (yes, you read that right. Way to go ICE. Exemplary service to country). There are currently 60 such veterans at this bunker being treated for injuries related to U.S. military service.
There are also voices stateside doing what they can to try to get ICE to become human beings. The Chairman of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, Mark Takano issued a letter to ICE saying, “Deporting veterans represents a failure by our government.” (No shit.) He continues, “It could have been prevented if ICE officials had been adhering to agency policies. This level of carelessness and disregard for official procedures is negligent and unacceptable.”
Other voices in high places are flexing their legal muscles, and it is becoming commonplace for Governors to pardon veterans for the infractions that caused them to be deported by ICE, many of which relate to green card infractions as the individuals believed they were on their way to citizenship just like they were told.
There were also Citizenship and Immigration Service offices on many military installations until 2018, but The Trump Administration shut them down during their revamping of ICE duties (like ripping children from their families, putting them in under-funded facilities where many have died, and not caring about veterans. I’ll happily take the mirrors from your house, as I’m sure you can’t look at them). Re-installing these offices would be a huge move for informing these heroes of their rights and helping them get on the path to citizenship.
Here are some organizations you can check out and donate to, if any of this upset you:
Deported Veterans Advocacy Project – Contact Willie Hager at VFPJax@mail.com
A facebook group for the Tijuana bunker: “Deported Veterans Support House”
Unified US Deported Veterans Resource Center – www.uusdepvets.org
Military Voices Initiative – Deported Veterans Project
And, of course, you can always call and write your Congressmen and women and tell them how horrible you think ICE is.