“As part of the DHS initiative, Secretary Mayorkas directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to immediately conduct a review of policies and practices to ensure that all eligible current and former noncitizen service members and the immediate families of military members are able to remain in or return to the United States, remove barriers to naturalization for those eligible, and improve access to immigration services,” a statement said.
”USCIS, ICE, and CBP will develop a rigorous, systematic approach to review the cases of individuals whose removals failed to live up to our highest values,” the statement continued. “USCIS, ICE, and CBP have also committed to protecting and expanding naturalization opportunities for current and former noncitizen service members and the immediate family of military members.”
U.S. military veterans, as well as immediate family members, have disgracefully been deported under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Due to the federal government’s carelessness, it’s unknown exactly how many military veterans have been deported after serving their country. Some estimates say about 230 veterans; a June report released by Illinois Sen. (and veteran) Tammy Duckworth last month found 92 military deportations between 2013 and 2018.
“To date, ICE does not maintain a thorough and complete database to track when immigrant Veterans are placed in deportation proceedings or actually deported,” Duckworth’s report said. The Washington Post reports the Biden administration’s effort could return “hundreds, possibly thousands, of deported veterans and their immediate family members.” The administration has already begun returning some deported family members through humanitarian parole, like military spouse Alejandra Juarez and military mom Rocio Rebollar Gomez in May.
Rebollar Gomez during the previous administration “applied for a program that protects the parents of active military members but was denied,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Immigration officials told her that she would have to leave, and on Jan. 2, 2020, she found herself sitting in El Chaparral plaza in Tijuana, calling her family to let them know that she had already been deported.”
Deported military veterans are unable to access benefits they earned through their service, exacerbating medical conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which oftentimes led to their deportation in the first place. Miguel Pérez Jr. was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. “Those struggles led to a drug-related conviction that landed him in state prison for seven years,” NPR reported. “While there, he received treatment for his condition, both therapy and medication. But that conviction also triggered deportation proceedings. After a year in an immigrant detention center, Pérez was deported to Matamoros, Mexico.”
He was abandoned by the U.S., alone and penniless. But following a pardon from Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker, as well as a fierce push by advocates including including Duckworth, Pérez Jr. won his fight to return to the U.S. in 2019. “Miguel Perez was willing to protect our nation in uniform and his experiences after coming home—including the great lengths he went to reform his life—show us why we should never give up on our combat veterans,” she said at the time.
Now it’s time to do right by other deported veterans and their families. “It’s our responsibility to serve all veterans as well as they have served us—no matter who they are, where they are from, or the status of their citizenship,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said. “Keeping that promise means ensuring that noncitizen service members, veterans, and their families are guaranteed a place in the country they swore an oath—and in many cases fought—to defend. We at VA are proud to work alongside DHS as to make that happen.”