Immigration Law

ICE Failed to Follow Policies on Noncitizen Veterans: GAO Report

Maria Ines Zamudio, WBEZ, June 7, 2019

"Hundreds of noncitizen veterans were placed in removal proceedings during the past six years despite policies to consider their service in deportation cases and to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants serving in the U.S. military.

Of the 250 veterans facing deportation, 92 were removed from the country, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office released Thursday. Nine of the deported veterans had service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Eighty-five percent of the deported veterans were legal permanent residents. And 26 of them tried to become citizens, according to the GAO report.

Noncitizen veterans can be deported, if they’re convicted of certain felonies.

But the GAO found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “did not consistently follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings.” Those policies were meant to ensure that immigration enforcement officials take additional steps in those proceedings and consider the military service of noncitizen veterans facing deportation.

... Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer and a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve, said the law is clear that, during wartime, soldiers can apply for citizenship after one day of military service.

“The reason the law says that — it's a law that's been around for more than a hundred years — is because it's not a good thing under international law for the U.S. to be deploying people who aren't American citizens,” said Stock, adding that under the current administration things are getting worse for noncitizens serving in the military. The GAO report indicated that the number of noncitizens in the military filing naturalization applications declined sharply from 2017 to 2018.

“The law passed by Congress says that, if you're serving honorably in the U.S. military during wartime, you can apply for citizenship when you report to basic training. And you're supposed to be able to get your citizenship at the end of basic training so that, if you deploy overseas, you won't be creating an international legal problem for the United States government,” Stock said. "But recently, a Department of Defense bureaucrat decided that she didn't like that law, and she issued an internal memo that says people cannot apply for citizenship in accordance with the law. They have to wait six months before asking their superior officer for permission to apply for citizenship.”"