Reps. Vargas, Takano, and Grijalva Introduce Comprehensive Legislative Package to Prevent the Deportation of Veterans
San Diego, CA (February 18, 2021)– Today, Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51), House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41), and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-3) reintroduced the Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act to prevent noncitizen veterans from being deported, improve tracking of noncitizen veterans in immigration proceedings, and bring certain eligible deported veterans back home. This bill was originally introduced in the 116th Congress.
"Our country must reform our immigration system to ensure that eligible servicemembers have a clear path to citizenship. These brave service members were willing to put their lives on the line for our country," said Rep. Vargas. "We cannot turn our backs on the same individuals that fought to defend our freedoms.”
“It’s a disgrace that veterans are falling through the cracks of our broken immigration system and being deported,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “Deported veterans are exiled from the country that they call home and that they fought to defend, and they face significant barriers to access the benefits they are entitled to and eligible for under the law. Congress must act and fix this injustice, and passing this comprehensive legislative package can help us achieve that. President Biden has stated that he is committed to helping deported veterans and we are ready to work with him to do just that. Thank you to my colleagues, Rep. Vargas and Rep. Grijalva, for continuing to raise awareness about deported veterans and for working together to restore honor to these veterans and their service.”
"Too many immigrant veterans proudly served our country overseas and were callously deported,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva. “Despite their willingness to defend our values in our armed forces, and after serving time for their infraction, our broken immigration system failed them. We owe it to them to fix this injustice. I’m proud to support this legislation that will prevent these deportations from happening and bring deported veterans back to the home they served."
Legal permanent residents are allowed to serve in our military, and systemic failures across many levels of our government have led to an unknown number of noncitizen veterans to be deported from the country they risked their lives to defend. Many deported veterans believed their service automatically conferred citizenship upon them, and often times, the military does not provide immigrant recruits clear information or guidance on the naturalization process. Because of this failure to disseminate information and gaps in the law, many veterans have been deported to a country they do not call home.
The Department of Defense estimates that there are approximately 25,000 noncitizens currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
This legislation is a comprehensive reform package that would implement critical reforms across agencies for noncitizen veterans and prevent their deportation. The legislative effort would specifically direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a program and application process to allow eligible deported veterans residing outside of the United States to return to the country as noncitizens lawfully admitted for permanent residence. The package also calls for the Department of Defense (DOD) and DHS to jointly establish a program to ensure members of the Armed Services and their spouses and children have a pathway to citizenship.
Currently, we lack consistent statistics on the scope and magnitude of the deportation of U.S. military veterans. Under this bill, the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security would be mandated to conduct a joint study and report on all of the veterans that have been deported in the past two decades. In June 2019, the Government Accountability Office found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not been tracking the number of veterans who have been deported, or been adhering to internal policies regarding potentially removable veterans. This study would allow Congress to better understand how many veterans have been forcibly removed.
The Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act:
- Requires DHS to maintain data on potentially removable noncitizen veterans. The DHS Secretary would be directed to establish an annual training program for ICE personnel on handling noncitizen veterans.
- Directs DHS to establish a Military Family Immigration Advisory Committee that would provide recommendations on whether an individual should be granted a stay of removal, deferred action, parole, or be removed from the country.
- Provides a pathway of citizenship for spouses and children of members of the Armed Services through a joint program between DOD and DHS.
- Requires DHS to establish a program and application procedure that allows eligible veterans to be admitted as noncitizens lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Also directs the Attorney General to reopen any removal proceedings of each noncitizen veteran issued and where appropriate, rescind any orders of removal already issued.
Vargas represents California's 51st Congressional District which includes the southern portion of San Diego County, all of Imperial County, and California's entire U.S.-Mexico border. Vargas was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and is currently serving his fifth term in Congress.