The U.S. has deported tens of thousands of military veterans since the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Some estimates point to at least 94,000. A majority of the service members deported were legal residents who committed at least three misdemeanors, making them deportable.
Noncitizen veterans can be deported, if they’re convicted of certain felonies.
But a ground-breaking study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “did not consistently follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings.” Those policies were put in place to ensure that immigration enforcement officials took additional steps to consider the military service of noncitizen veterans facing deportation.
Additionally, the GAO report pointed to significant shortcomings in federal government efforts to guide immigrants serving in the military through the process to become naturalized citizens, despite well-defined policies of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Defense to provide them with information about the process.
About 30% of deported veterans had previously applied for naturalization, the report found. If those veterans had been successful at becoming citizens, they wouldn’t have been deported.
But, how can Military Veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States be deported?
The deportation of noncitizen veterans is an unintended consequence of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. Billed as an anti-crime effort, the law made it possible to deport legal permanent residents convicted of certain felonies. In recent years, some federal lawmakers have tried to push back against the law; in 2016, a group of legislatures introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the IIRIRA. for its “devastating impact that the criminal justice system has on communities of color and that an immigration system that relies on the criminalization of immigrants compounds that injustice,” the resolution stated.
Still, for Veterans who have been deported, they think less about the law that deported then than they think about the country that they feel has betrayed them.
The National Association of Minority Veterans of America believes that all Veterans deserve a “fair shake.” If they were promised citizenship for their service, then citizenship should be granted, expeditiously. And, no Veteran should be forced to wait to become a citizen after serving in the Military. This law adversely effects Veterans of Color just like it adversely effects communities of color throughout the united states and NAMVETS demands that it be reformed.
Meanwhile, many deported veterans and their families still await the return to the country they fought for valiantly.