One Year After Trump Administration Deported Illinois Veteran, Duckworth Re-introduces Comprehensive Bill Package to Protect Veterans and Servicemembers from Unfair Treatment
Duckworth: “Men and women willing to wear our uniform shouldn’t be deported by the same nation they risked their lives to defend”
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – One year after the deportation of Afghanistan War Veteran Miguel Perez, Jr., combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today re-introduced several bills to protect and support Veterans and servicemembers—men and women who have proven they are willing lay down their lives defending America. Duckworth’s proposals—the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, HOPE Act and I-VETS Act— are co-sponsored by several of her House and Senate colleagues and would prohibit the deportation of Veterans who are not violent offenders, give legal permanent residents a path to citizenship through military service and strengthen VA healthcare services for Veterans.
“Men and women willing to wear our uniform shouldn’t be deported by the same nation they risked their lives to defend,” Duckworth said. “These pieces of legislation will help Servicemembers become citizens and help Veterans like Miguel who have been deported return to this country, enabling them to live here with their families and ensuring they can access the life-saving VA care they earned through their tremendous sacrifices.”
“No one who serves our nation in uniform, volunteering to die for it, should be forced to leave it,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a sponsor of the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, HOPE Act and I-VETS Act. “Providing a path to earned citizenship and basic health care mean keeping faith with veterans.”
“When immigrants step up to serve our country, it is unacceptable to deny them the very same rights and opportunities they risk their lives defending. We must appropriately recognize these veterans, and that starts with protecting their access to care and their right to remain in their communities,” said Senator Mazie Hirono, a sponsor of the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, HOPE Act and I-Vets Act. “The Veterans Visa and Protection Act, the HOPE Act, and the I-VETS Act would help veterans seek legal permanent residency and citizenship. It would also ensure all veterans can access medical care for service-connected medical conditions.”
“We cannot turn our backs on the brave people who came to America and put their lives on the line to defend our country,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a sponsor of the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, HOPE Act and I-VETS Act. “The United States should honor those sacrifices by providing veterans and servicemembers a path to permanently stay in the nation they proudly served and now call home.”
“Just two weeks ago, I met with deported American veterans who are now living on the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana. It was hard hearing their stories of how painful it was for them to be deported from the country that they had sacrificed so much for,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, a sponsor of the Veterans Visa and Protection Act and the I-VETS Act. “Our veterans represent the best of America, putting their country before themselves to defend our security and values. This is true no matter where they were born. It’s time to treat all of our vets fairly, and stop deporting individuals who have put their lives on the line to defend America.”
“The courageous men and women who’ve immigrated to America and risked their lives to serve our country should not face deportation upon their return to civilian life,” said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a sponsor of the I-VETS Act. “Veterans in Nevada, and across the country, deserve to be honored for their service and provided every support to navigate the process for citizenship following their service. I’m committed to honoring our brave service members by ensuring they’re able to become naturalized citizens.”
“Our veterans have sacrificed significantly to defend our nation, and they have shown – beyond any doubt – their dedication to this country. It is absolutely abhorrent that this administration is deporting brave men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives for this country,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a sponsor of the I-VETS Act. “Congress needs to step in to put an end to this practice immediately, and I am proud to support legislation that protects our veterans.”
“It is unconscionable that the phrase ‘deported veteran’ even exists,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a sponsor of the Veterans Visa and Protection Act. “If you’re good enough to enlist in our military and fight for this country, you’re good enough to become a U.S. citizen. I am proud to reintroduce this legislation to ensure that we honor our commitments to all veterans and end this shameful practice of deporting them even after they serve time for the offense they committed.”
Perez was born in Mexico and legally immigrated to America with his family to Illinois when he was 11 years old. His parents and children are U.S. citizens and he served two tours of duty in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. However, Perez was not offered support from the U.S. Army to naturalize as a U.S. citizen despite an executive order that President George W. Bush signed in 2002 authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces on or after September 11, 2001, to file for U.S. Citizenship. After returning from his deployments, Perez struggled with service-connected Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and, lacking proper care for his condition, self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, which eventually resulted in his arrest for non-violent drug crimes in 2008. Despite serving his sentence, his long-time status as a Legal Permanent Resident and his record of military service, he was stripped of his legal status and deported last March.
Senator Duckworth was active in efforts to save Miguel Perez, Jr., from deportation, introducing a private bill in February of 2018 to help him remain in the United States. She wrote several letters of support for Perez’s retroactive citizenship application, as well as a letter asking U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to personally review Perez’s case. After Perez’s deportation, Duckworth spoke out, calling the deportation a “tragic example of what can happen when national immigration policies are based more in hate than on logic and ICE doesn’t feel accountable to anyone.” Duckworth also highlighted Perez’s story in a major foreign policy speech earlier this month.
The following Veteran and servicemember support bills were reintroduced this week by Senator Duckworth:
- The Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019 would prohibit the deportation of Veterans who are not violent offenders, establish a visa program through which deported Veterans may enter the United States as legal permanent residents, enable legal permanent residents to become naturalized citizens through military service and extend military and Veterans benefits to those who would be eligible for those benefits if they were not deported.
- The Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile (HOPE) Act of 2019 would allow deported Veterans who committed non-violent crimes the opportunity to temporarily re-enter the United States to receive medical care from a VA facility for service-connected medical conditions.
- The Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS) Act of 2019 would identify non-citizens who are currently serving or who have served in the armed forces when they are applying for immigration benefits or when placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to annotate all immigration and naturalization records to reflect their service records. This information will enable DHS to “fast track” Veterans and servicemembers who are applying for naturalization, while also allowing officials to practice prosecutorial discretion, if appropriate, when adjudicating their cases.
Although the exact number is unknown, hundreds of non-citizen Veterans are estimated to have been deported from the United States in recent years. President Trump’s 2017 executive order expanding the grounds for deportation could also be leading to an increase in the deportation of Veterans. While most deported Veterans were eligible for naturalization when they were in the military, the U.S. government has often failed to prioritize assisting non-citizen servicemembers with completing the naturalization process. Because of this lack of follow-through, some Veterans who thought they had become citizens found out later that they were vulnerable to deportation because their paperwork had never been processed.
Once a Veteran is deported, they are usually unable to access the VA benefits they have earned and would receive if they were still living in the United States. Many have trouble accessing even basic medical care, even though Veterans struggle with higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and physical health problems like chronic pain than the general population. Many deported Veterans are also separated from their families and their children who live in the U.S., while those deported to Mexico or Central America are especially vulnerable to threats from gangs and drug cartels due to their military experience.
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