Veterans Day disgrace: Stop deporting immigrants who served, make them American citizens
It’s hard to believe that we are deporting veterans. Support for those who fought for our country should not be contingent on their country of birth.
In a country where we celebrate and honor those who heeded the call to serve in the military, most Americans would be shocked to learn that just south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, exists the Deported Veterans Support House, better known as “The Bunker.” Marked by a banner in red, white, and blue, and located next to a tire shop in a residential neighborhood, the bunker is a shelter for veterans of the United States Armed Forces who were deported from the same country they fought to protect, even after being honorably discharged.
Once inside, you might be greeted by veterans who are miles away from their homes and their families and denied access to the benefits they earned, need, and are still eligible for under the law. In the face of this injustice, however, they are still proud of their service to our nation and are fighting to return home. It’s time for Congress to join this fight and bring them back to the families and nation they risked their lives to protect.
Immigrants from around the world, and those aspiring to become citizens through service, have played a critical role in the U.S. Armed Forces since our country’s founding. These brave men and women have protected our freedoms and swore an oath to defend our Constitution against all enemies. In return, America made these recruits a promise: citizenship in exchange for service. Our government and our military have failed these veterans, and the road of broken promises has inflicted numerous traumas on those caught in the middle.
Exiled from the country they served
The deportation of military veterans is disgraceful on many levels. With deportation, veterans are denied the ability to stay in the country they fought for. Often, they are forced to return to a country they barely knew and is now foreign to them — away from their home, their family, and their loved ones. This problem is made more severe because these veterans can’t access the benefits they have rightfully earned for their service. Once deported, it is nearly impossible for veterans to access their earned benefits or receive the care they need.
The Department of Defense estimates that about 25,000 immigrants are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It is up to Congress to do everything it can to prevent the deportation of more non-citizen veterans by enacting sensible reforms that will help America keep our promise of naturalization to these men and women, protect them from deportation, and bring deported veterans home.
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Together, we’ve introduced the Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act, a comprehensive legislative package aimed at making necessary improvements to the law that can help prevent immigrant veterans from falling through the cracks of our broken immigration system and help bring deported veterans home. The bill would enact reforms to properly track immigrant veterans, help ensure that they have completed the necessary steps to become naturalized U.S. citizens, and require agencies to track immigrant veterans in immigration proceedings. It would also require federal agencies to identify veterans who have been deported and directs the Department of Homeland Security secretary to create a program allowing certain eligible veterans to return to the United States as lawful permanent residents.
Deporting veterans is a disgrace
The truth is, we have no idea how many veterans have been deported, because according to a government watchdog, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been breaking its own protocol and not tracking the veteran status of those they are trying to deport. The findings in the Government and Accountability Office report are alarming and point to the urgent need for a legislative solution. We must dispel the myths that the naturalization process is easy and that immigrant veterans who find themselves in immigration proceedings will automatically be identified for elevated consideration. All federal agencies that encounter potentially removable veterans must do their part to prevent unjust deportations.
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It’s hard to believe that we are deporting veterans, but it’s true. It’s a disgrace that could have been prevented, and urgent action must be taken. Support for those who fought for our country should not be contingent on their country of birth.
Congress must remain committed to improving the lives of all of our veterans and removing any barriers between their benefits. Doing everything we can to prevent their removal and bringing deported veterans home is a step forward in this mission.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, is chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Reps. Juan Vargas, D-California, and Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, are advocates for deported veterans. Follow them on Twitter: @RepMarkTakano @RepJuanVargas and @RepRaulGrijalva