On Thursday Democratic Senator of Illinois Tammy Duckworth introduced bills to protect veterans from deportation. More specifically, the bill would stop the United States from deporting military veterans convicted of nonviolent crimes, help deported soldiers return to the country, and provide soldiers a more accessible path to citizenship. The legislative proposals would require naturalization offices at all military training sites so non-citizen service members have a more convenient way to apply for citizenship. The legislation would also improve health care services for veterans.
Duckworth, an Army veteran herself, said in a statement:
Because the Department of Homeland Security does not track veterans who are removed from the United States, it's unclear how many have actually been deported each year. However, the American Civil Liberties Union has put some of the pieces together by identifying at least 239 foreign-born veterans who were deported from the United States in a 2016 study. The actual number should be higher though, reported Buzzfeed, as activists routinely find deported service members in Tijuana, Mexico, and other border towns. Even veterans who have already served jail time are at risk of being deported later on.
In one of the legislative proposals co-sponsored by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Homeland Security would be required to identify current and former non-citizen service members. The department would then be able to fast track the veterans' applications for citizenship. Last month, Congressional Democrats also called on the Department of Veteran Affairs to give veterans already deported access to government health care. Veterans can suffer from a variety of physical and mental problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, but those deported often have problems accessing basic health care. The bills sponsored by Sens. Duckworth and Masto are similar to the package of legislation introduced by Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) in May, which addresses the same topics of health care and rights for deported veterans.
Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, has looked at more than 80 cases of veterans who either were deported or facing deportation. In "Discharged, then Discarded," a report she co-wrote, the ACLU found that many veterans thought they would automatically become citizens through their service and some who applied for naturalization had their paperwork lost.
Kern Country, California sheriff, and Vietnam War veteran Donny Youngblood told PRI that he sympathizes with other veterans struggling with civilian life, but those who repeatedly break the law should still be deported. Still those with less serious crimes often pay a steep price, he noted. Youngblood proposed all immigrants should be granted citizenship for their military service, which would allow them to deal with any brushes with the law as a protected citizen. Given Trump's emphasis on America's veterans, it will be telling to see how — and if — he responds to the bills.