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Deported veterans would get a new opportunity to become legal US residents under a bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
The bill’s consideration comes a month after the panel held a hearing to highlight the challenges faced by veterans who aren’t citizens. Noncitizen veterans are eligible for US citizenship, but not all meet every requirement or apply — leaving them vulnerable to deportation if convicted of a crime.
A Government Accountability Office report found 250 veterans were removed or placed in removal proceedings and 92 were deported from 2013 to 2019.
“This is an area where we could come together to put people over politics,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said during committee consideration of the bill (H.R. 7946). “Let’s honor our veterans.”
Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security would be authorized to grant permanent resident status to veterans who have received removal orders, with some limitations. DHS and the Defense Department would be directed to ease the process for members of the military to apply for citizenship.
The panel advanced the measure by a party-line vote of 23-16. Republicans opposed the bill, citing concerns about security and giving immigration status to veterans involved with the criminal justice system.
“Most people that join the military, it does take courage,” Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said. “Especially if you’re a Chinese spy and you’re going to come into the United States. That takes a lot of courage.”
Many of veterans’ crimes are related to post-traumatic stress disorder from their time in the military, Democrats said. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) noted veterans with PTSD are 60% more likely to involved with the criminal justice system.
The committee also approved a measure to smooth the immigration process for spouses of citizens. The bipartisan bill (H.R. 2920) from Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and David Valadao (R-Calif.), also approved in a 23-16 party-line vote, would give US immigration officials more discretion to approve residency petitions for spouses of US citizens who are considered inadmissible on administrative grounds.
American Families United, a group that advocates for mixed-status families, estimates that 1.3 million US citizens have been separated from a family member who was deported or refused a visa, and another 2.7 million citizens face the risk of separation. The group is pushing Senate Republicans to join the cause and introduce a companion bill in the Senate.
With assistance from Ellen M. Gilmer
To contact the reporter on this story: Mia McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org