Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard said that some immigrant veterans are getting the “door slammed on their face” when they apply for U.S. citizenship, because denials are higher for applicants who served in America’s military compared to civilians.
At a meeting with in San Francisco, California speaking at the Veterans Caucus, Gabbard was asked what she would do about immigrant veterans who are deported.
“We got to bring our veterans home,” said Gabbard, a U.S. representative from Hawaii who served two tours of duty in the Middle East and is a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not know exactly how many noncitizen veterans it has deported over the last five years, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In a new report released Thursday, the GAO not only concluded that ICE has failed to consistently adhere to its own policies related to cases of veterans who may be subject to deportation but also lacks a complete record of how many of these individuals were removed from the US from 2013 to 2018.
“ICE has developed policies for handling cases of noncitizen veterans who may be subject to removal from the United States, but does not consistently adhere to those policies, and does not consistently identify and track such veterans,” the GAO reports. “Additionally, ICE has not developed a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters during interviews, and in cases when agents and officers do learn they have encountered a veteran, ICE does not maintain complete electronic data. Therefore, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans’ cases.”
Today, about 40,000 immigrants serve in the armed forces, and approximately 5,000 noncitizens enlist each year, according to the National Immigration Forum. As of 2016, about 511,000 veterans were foreign-born.
Most of them are lawful permanent residents of the United States. And more than half a million US veterans are foreign-born.
Throughout U.S. history, many immigrants have served with distinction and are among those who have received the highest military honors. More than 20 percent of Medal of Honor recipients are immigrants.
In general, immigrants must meet specific criteria to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. The law allows expedited naturalization for non-U.S. citizens in the Armed Forces and recently honorably discharged immigrant veterans.
“Immigrants have served in every war since the American Revolution,” said Nancy Gentile Ford, a history professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. “And the military has always served as a way for immigrants to become citizens.”
Deported veteran Hector Barajas, who still wears the medals he earned serving in the US military, became well-known as leader of an increasingly vocal group of American military heroes who were forced to live in Tijuana, across the Mexican border.
On April 13, 2018, he became a US citizen at a ceremony in San Diego after California’s governor cleared the way for his return.
The plight of deported veterans is only one of many complaints rising from the brutal and unnecessary actions of the Trump administration, which has also let 24 immigrants die in ICE custody and separated thousands of children from their parents, some of them permanently.
A veteran of the Iraq War, Gabbard is a prominent voice on defense, veterans affairs and foreign policy issues in Congress. A Democrat from Hawaii’s 2nd District in Honolulu, she was one of the first two female combat vets elected to Congress and she says America needs to scale back military intervention abroad.
“As a veteran of two combat tours in the Middle East, I feel a deep sense of camaraderie with all the brave men and women who have served and who continue to serve in our Armed Forces,” said Gabbard, who also says her dedication to peace would benefit everyone.
“Every single one of us is paying the price for these wars,” Gabbard said. “And we see this every time we are told by politicians that there is just not enough money. There’s just not enough money to make sure that mothers and fathers and sons and daughters in places like Merrimack, New Hampshire, have clean water to drink. There’s just not enough money to make sure that we have safe roads and bridges to drive on.”
“We got to bring our veterans home,” said Gabbard, who explained that many immigrant veterans and active service members don’t know their rights.
“Even those who apply for citizenship, we’re seeing now, are getting rejected at higher numbers than those who are not veterans,” Gabbard said. “This dishonors their service, their sacrifice, the sacrifices that are made by their family members.”
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