America's Voice En Español »
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 veterans. As 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.
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.
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:
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.