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Lawmakers are aiming to advance legislation to streamline the process for granting citizenship to veterans and service members after federal officials called for improvements.
Representatives of the Veterans Affairs, Defense, and Homeland Security departments laid out their efforts to create a faster naturalization process for veterans, reach out to noncitizen veterans, and help immigrant veterans receive government benefits during Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
“The issue of removing veterans from the United States is not just a legal or administrative challenge; it is a dilemma of conscience,” Debra Rogers, director of the Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative, said in written testimony. She represents an interagency working group established to fulfill a 2021 executive order from President Joe Biden.
Noncitizen veterans are eligible for citizenship but not all meet every requirement or apply. A Government Accountability Office report found 92 were deported from 2013 to 2019.
Noncitizen veterans may be deported due to criminal convictions, many of which are drug-related. These veterans often cope with service-related mental and physical health issues through drug use, members of the committee said.
“I’m hopeful that we can move forward to pass legislation to honor our veterans to make sure that they get the respect that they earned through their service to our country,” Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said. Lawmakers introduced several bills on the issue earlier this year.
Lawmakers and government officials stressed the importance of ensuring that immigrant veterans keep their health care.
Many deported veterans with mental or physical health issues are unable to access VA health care due to their immigration status, Rogers said. She noted this can lead to homelessness and poverty.
“The stories of veterans who have been removed from the United States are complex, and often reflect the societal challenges we all must work to resolve,” Rogers said in her testimony.
The hearing came a day after the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to Biden, criticizing his administration for slow-walking the rollback of a Trump-era policy that restricted military naturalization.
A 2017 policy from the Trump administration required immigrant service members to serve for a minimum period before applying for citizenship. A 2020 District Court order ended the policy, but the administration is appealing the decision and hasn’t rescinded the policy, the ACLU reported.
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