ACLU Report Details How U.S. Has Failed Deported Veterans
ACLU of So, California
LOS ANGELES -
Foreign-born soldiers have served the United States since the founding of the Republic. Their dedication to the military and to the country they love - indeed, for-soldiers who came here as young children, the only country they've ever known matches and often surpasses the commitment of the native born.
Yet for some. honorable serve to defend and protect. They are members of what is unfortunately a growing brotherhood veterans of the United States armed forces who have been unceremoniously deported.
Many are combat veterans who sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts going back to the war in Vietnam.
Many have been decorated for their service. But service records not withstanding, the U.S. has seen fit to kick them out of the country, sometimes for minor offenses that resulted in little if any incarceration. What's worse, their military service entitled these men to naturalization.
Many believed they became citizens by nature of their service and oath some were told as much by their recruiters and were never informed otherwise.
They should all be US citizens today, at home with their loved ones, but they languish in unfamiliar and often dangerous foreign places, unable in many cases to speak the native language, because of bureaucratic bungling and government indifference. The federal government's failure to help naturalize immigrants serving in the U.S. military has led to the deportation of untold numbers of veterans, all of whom were entitled to become citizens because of their service, according to a report released by the ACLU of California. The report, "Discharged, Then Discarded," found that deported veterans were in the U.S. legally and sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam. Once they returned from service, however, they were subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.
"By requiring deportation and stripping immigration courts of the power to consider military service, the United States government abandons these veterans by expelling them to foreign countries at the moment when they most need the government's help to rehabilitate their lives after service," said Bardis Vakili, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of California. "This is a tragic and disgraceful example of how broken our immigration system is." Much of the current problem dates back to punitive laws enacted nearly 20 years ago, and lawmakers' unwillingness to fix a broken immigration system that has led to the deportation of veterans, tom families apart and left many living in fear.
For veterans, all of whom served their time for their criminal convictions, deportation is a lifetime punishment that never would have happened if the government had ensured their right to be naturalized. The consequences of deportation include lack of access to necessary VA medical benefits that all veterans are entitled to regardless of immigration status, the report concludes. They suffer permanent separation from their families, including U.S.-born children.
The report also provides key recommendations, including:
Restoring judicial discretion to allow judges to consider factors such as military service in cases involving deportation;
Requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to adopt an agency-wide moratorium on and/or presumption against removal of any active-duty U.S. service member or honorably discharged veteran; Reopening those naturalization applications that were denied or abandoned because an individual was unable to follow through on the naturalization process as a result of their military service; Providing legal representation to active-duty U.S. service members and veterans who are in removal proceedings.
"This reports shows how the federal government has failed these veterans," said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants'Rights and senior staff attorney for the ACLU of California. "They were told they were American enough to fight our wars and serve our country, and then deported and discarded. That's unacceptable. The U.S. government must do right by these men and women."
Following is a testimonial by U.S.M.C. veteran Daniel Torres.
When you join the U.S. Marine Corps, you are taught to "leave no man behind." I lived and breathed those words while serving as an infantryman in the First Battalion, 7th Regiment in Iraq. These days, however, that maxim holds a very different meaning. I came to the United States from Mexico with my family as a minor and overstayed my visa. By the time I was 18, I believed this was my home and I was willing to fight for my country.
I enlisted but I failed to disclose that I was not an American citizen. When I attempted to volunteer for a second tour of duty in Afghanistan, my secret was revealed. I lied so I could serve this country.
Three years after I first became a Marine, I suddenly found myself in Tijuana, unable to come back to the country I called home.
I spent the next five years unable to see my family, my friends, even those I served with in Iraq. I soon discovered that I was not alone. I met dozens of other foreign-born veterans, who after serving honorably in the U.S. military, were deported for one reason or another. Some of the veterans fell on hard times after they were discharged. Others suffered from PTSD, depression, addiction or other psychological wounds that stemmed from their service.
Yet few received the help they needed and deserved. All of them were eligible to become U.S. citizens because of their service-in fact, many were promised automatic naturalization but never received it. Instead, many of them were banished to another country because the federal government failed to provide the help they needed to naturalize while in the military.
That's shameful, unjust and un-American. The plight of many of these veterans is chronicled in "Discharged, Then Discarded," a new report released this week by the ACLU of California that details how veterans have become victims of a system that fails to ensure they obtain citizenship and then subjects them to punitive immigration laws.
The reality is that foreign-born veterans are among the most loyal Americans. They are willing to defend you and your family.
They are prepared to die for this country. Unfortunately, once their term of service is up, many of those green-card veterans are being tom from their homes and families, treated as if they are disposable. I am now an American citizen because the ACLU and others stood up for me. Now it's time for us to stand up for banished veterans. They are not foreigners. They are Americans in exile. Their biggest fault is that they weren't born on this side of the fence.
This only makes their service, sacrifice and loyalty that much more honorable. Yet I am only one of many who served, and the only one who was able to return. Veterans from every conflict and every nation are now deported to a place far from home, because for us the United States is home.
These veterans are this nation's brave, yet they are not free. Regardless of what your political views are, I think we can all agree that an American veteran belongs in America, You can't choose where you are born, l didn't even choose to come to this country, but you can choose who you are loyal to, and this is the country I am loyal to.
after five years of exile in Mexico. His story is part of the ACLU of Cali fomi a's report: "Discharged, Then Discarded."
The report is available at http://www.ac1usocal.org
Lance Cpl Daniel Torre became a US citizen on April 12 2016