Federal law dictates that while lawful permanent residents can be legally conscripted into the military, they are also able to enlist in any branch of the armed forces. Indeed, statistics from the Department of Defense reveal that roughly 12,000 active duty service members are non-citizens and another 500,000-plus veterans are non-citizens.
While we owe these brave men and women our eternal gratitude for their service, a recently released report by the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union reveals that we may be failing in this regard.
What exactly did the report find?
The ACLU found that hundreds of immigrant veterans, many of whom saw combat and/or were decorated for their service, have been deported for committing low-level criminal offenses. Indeed, many of these veterans had lived in the U.S. for decades prior to their deportation and/or committed their offenses as they fought to readjust to life as civilians.
Why is this happening?
The ACLU attributes this phenomenon to recent changes in immigration law that saw immigration judges deprived of their discretionary authority, and the list of aggravated felonies for which non-citizens can be deported under the Immigration and Naturalization Act expanded.
By way of example, consider the case of a Jamaican-born man who served in the Army for six years only to be taken into custody and placed in deportation proceedings back in 2013. Here, the arrest was made based on a then-four-year-old conviction for a drug crime.
Despite the passage of time and the fact that he served no jail time, he was still considered deportable given that the drug crime was an aggravated felony under the INA.
Did the ACLU report make any other discoveries?
Somewhat shockingly, the researchers found that as many as 73 percent of the immigrant veterans they examined went without legal representation during their removal hearings. Furthermore, many mistakenly believed that they automatically gained citizenship by virtue of their service.
Did the report make any recommendations?
The ACLU recommends that the Department of Homeland Security institute a moratorium on the deportation of immigrant veterans or, at the very least, view these deportation cases through a different lens, such that things like sacrifices made, honors awarded and injuries suffered are properly considered.
It will be interesting to see if this report spurs changes within the DHS or DOD …
Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you or a loved one have been detained by immigration officials as your freedom and your future are at stake.