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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing legislation to help people who were deported after serving in the U.S. military.
The Biden administration announced last week it would review the removals of noncitizen service members, veterans, and family members; bring home those wrongly deported; and ensure they can access government benefits. Several members of Congress praised the development but said it must be reinforced on Capitol Hill.
“We need a real legislative solution,” Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said in a statement Tuesday. “I will be working this Congress—as I have in previous Congresses—on legislation to allow our deported servicemembers and veterans to return home.”
Noncitizens who serve in the military are eligible to become citizens, but some don’t apply or don’t meet all the requirements. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is supposed to give special consideration to such veterans before deporting them, but a 2019 government watchdog report showed the agency was applying the policy inconsistently.
More than 44,000 noncitizens enlisted in the military between fiscal 2013 and 2018, according to the Government Accountability Office report. The GAO concluded, based on incomplete data, that about 250 veterans were removed or placed in removal proceedings during that time.
Young co-sponsored a proposal in 2019 to protect veterans from deportation and offer them a speedier path to citizenship. The bill didn’t advance. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), who led that measure, hasn’t reintroduced the legislation yet but last week touted it as a way to “ensure no administration can deport our honorable veterans in the future.”
Young said he was in talks with Republicans and Democrats and was “hopeful that we can make progress.” The 2019 bill would protect noncitizen veterans who were honorably discharged or released and not convicted of serious crimes.
Similar legislation reintroduced last month in both chambers would prohibit deportations of veterans who aren’t violent offenders, create a visa program for deported veterans to enter the U.S. as legal permanent residents, and ensure they receive veterans’ benefits.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who is a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, introduced the legislative package (S. 2261, S. 2265, and S. 2268) alongside other Senate Democrats. Duckworth lauded the Biden administration’s initiative last week but said in a statement “it is still critical Congress change the laws that allowed this to happen in the first place.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who introduced a similar measure (H.R. 4137) said in a statement Tuesday that “it’s now more important than ever that we pass it and have a permanent solution to end the deportation of veterans once and for all.”
Under the Biden administration’s plan, the departments of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security will review deportations and work to bring home people “who were unjustly removed,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in the announcement.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org