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New Report: We Should Better Serve Immigrant Vets, Protect Them from Deportation

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Donald Trump’s deportation crackdown has, in the last year, spared few. Mothers and fathers have been deported, as have business leaders, entrepreneurs, Dreamers — and veteransAs we wrote in our Faces of Deportation in 2017 blog:

Three percent – more than 500,000 – of the nearly 19 million U.S. veterans are foreign-born. Under the Trump administration, “veteran deportations appear to be happening more frequently.”

According to a new report from the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), a nonpartisan legal advocacy group, an estimated 3,000 veterans have been deported over the last few years.

Current immigration law allows non-citizen immigrant service members and veterans the opportunity to earn U.S. citizenship; Trump’s new regulations extend the waiting period. Immigrants, DACA recipients, and certain non-immigrants may serve in the military. Even though undocumented immigrants are not allowed to serve, undocumented men ages 18-25 are still required by law to register with the Selective Service System.

The military currently faces recruiting challenges and rely upon the medical, lingual, and cultural skills of noncitizen recruits, who according to TCRP often outperform their U.S. citizen counterparts and have lower attrition rates.

TCRP’s “Land of The Free, No Home to the Brave: A Report on the Social, Economic, and Moral Cost of Deporting Veterans” report notes:

  • Over 80,000 noncitizen individuals enlisted in the U.S. military from 1999 to 2010; only 53,000 service members became naturalized citizens from their service.
  • Roughly 14,508 noncitizen U.S. military service members were on active duty in 2009.
  • More than 1 in 4 returning service members suffered from mental health conditions in 2008.

Immigrants who serve aren’t protected from deportation

Immigration law provides no special deportation protection for veterans who are immigrants. Similar to U.S. citizen veterans, many noncitizen veterans suffer from mental health, PTSD, depression, or substance abuse connected to their military service. In 2014, it was estimated that around 12 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had PTSD without seeking help for it.

When noncitizen veterans commit certain crimes stemming from their service, they may – in addition to serving their sentence time – be subject to deportation. Though serving in the military creates an opportunity for immigrant service members to earn U.S. citizenship, they can still be deported while waiting on that years-long process.

“The most astonishing thing about the report is that the reason why most of these veterans end up in the criminal justice system is specifically and directly related to their service,” said Efrén C. Olivares, an attorney and Racial Economic Justice Program Director with TCRP.

TCRP recommendations: consider contributions of immigrant vets

The TCRP report says deporting noncitizen veterans fails to enhance public safety, wastes taxpayer money, and harms the economy. To do right by immigrant service members and improve U.S. policy, the report recommends:

  • Allowing deported veterans parole to enter the U.S. to seek Veterans’ Affairs health care services.
  • Encouraging Texas judicial districts to establish more Veterans’ Treatment Courts.
  • Rethinking cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local criminal justice systems in veterans’ cases.
  • Giving immigration judges special discretion in removal proceedings to consider factors such as veterans’ military service and ties to the community.

Michael Evans was adopted and grew up as a legal permanent resident. After enlisting in the military, he received conflicting information about the citizenship process related to his service. After being honorably discharged in 2000, he overcame substance abuse issues. Two weeks before taking his citizenship oath, FBI agents arrested Evans for a two-year-old crime; after he served time, Evans was deported to Mexico. He has a job and volunteers with with an organization that helps transition deported U.S. veterans. Evans hopes to return to his family in the U.S. and the country he so proudly served.

As Emma Hilbert, TCRP staff attorney, said about cases like Evans’:

Our country is built on the promise and commitment of leaving no veteran behind. But instead of finding that support, veterans who risked their lives for us are facing deportation and being ripped away from their families and from the country they love, and simply because of a mistake or because they could not navigate the deep web of bureaucracy in our broken immigration system. This is not who we are. As Texans, and as a country, we have a duty to ensure that these veterans are treated with the respect they deserve.