Amer­i­can Vets De­ported Af­ter Prom­ise of Cit­i­zen­ship

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Un­der Trump, the U.S. is still reneg­ing on its prom­ises to pro­vide cit­i­zen­ship to many veter­ans who signed up to serve in ex­change for cit­i­zen­ship.

It is a tragic story, and one that in any other walk of life would be con­sid­ered a crim­i­nal scam. What hap­pened is that many mem­bers of the U.S. armed forces joined the mil­i­tary, un­der the grounds that they were go­ing to be granted U.S. cit­i­zen­ship af­ter re­turn­ing from duty with an hon­or­able dis­charge. The truth is in­stead that at best th­ese im­mi­grant veter­ans have to fight yet again on their re­turn, to de­mand that those deals be hon­ored. At worst, many of th­ese im­mi­grant veter­ans are com­ing back to find they are to be de­ported.

In Cal­i­for­nia alone, there are an es­ti­mated 170,000 of th­ese im­mi­grant veter­ans liv­ing among full-fledged cit­i­zens. Of th­ese, at least 30,000 of those are fully el­i­gi­ble for help to be­come nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens but have no idea how to take that step. Many do not even know they are not cit­i­zens, think­ing it might have been some sort of au­to­matic process on their re­turn.

Those who have served hon­or­ably in the mil­i­tary but end up de­ported of­ten are for the wrong rea­sons. They end up be­ing con­victed of mi­nor crimes or drug use, both con­nected with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­ders stem­ming di­rectly from what they ex­pe­ri­enced in the mil­i­tary. They are also of­ten se­verely de­pressed, both from their time in the mil­i­tary and for the chal­lenges they faced on their re­turn to U.S. soil. Yet the very na­tion they served while sub­jected to those stresses will not take care of them prop­erly, and sends them back across the bor­der.

One for­mer de­ported vet­eran, Daniel Tor­res, was the first per­son to se­cure cit­i­zen­ship af­ter he had been de­ported – and was out of the coun­try. His sit­u­a­tion is that he falsely claimed to be a U.S. cit­i­zen, when he signed up to join the U.S. Ma­rine Corps. Upon his hon­or­able dis­charge, he tried to get work or at­tend school, but could not. So, he self-de­ported and at­tended law school in Ti­juana in­stead. Af­ter a pro­tracted le­gal pur­suit, he fi­nally was able to se­cure nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zen­ship while liv­ing in Mex­ico.

Those that are like Tor­res, that lied to be a part of the U.S. mil­i­tary but hon­or­ably served in ev­ery re­spect, are one cat­e­gory of those who – de­spite the lie – de­serve our re­spect and sup­port in help­ing them for­mally be­come cit­i­zens.

A sec­ond group, larger still, are those who were promised cit­i­zen­ship as part of an ar­range­ment to have them sign up for the mil­i­tary in the first place. Both groups put their lives on the line in re­turn for be­ing able to be­come Amer­i­cans af­ter they came back.

In an event held in San Diego on June 27, Daniel Tor­res along with Nathan Fletcher, a for­mer Cal­i­for­nia assem­bly­man and cur­rent chair­man of Hon­or­ably Dis­charged, Dis­hon­or­ably De­ported, gath­ered to­gether with Norma Chavez-peter­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the San Diego chapter of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, and Rick Reyes of the Cal Vet Mi­nor­ity Veter­ans Di­vi­sion to call at­ten­tion to the plight of th­ese de­serv­ing veter­ans.

It was a ma­jor fol­low-up of a call to ac­tion that hap­pened last sum­mer when the ACLU first re­leased a re­port dis­clos­ing the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ing to make sure those el­i­gi­ble veter­ans were nat­u­ral­ized while still serv­ing in the mil­i­tary, as they had been promised.

More­over, un­der Pres­i­dent Trump or­ders are ap­par­ently now be­ing con­sid­ered to can­cel con­tracts for as many as 1,000 for­eign-born mil­i­tary re­cruits. That not only would shut down the con­tract to bring them on board the mil­i­tary in the first place, it would im­me­di­ately set them up for ac­cel­er­ated de­por­ta­tion. All this of course would hap­pen de­spite there hav­ing been, in many cases at least, an un­der­stand­ing that many of those re­cruits would be el­i­gi­ble for nat­u­ral­iza­tion af­ter re­turn­ing home.

Con­sid­er­ing all the other chest-thump­ing un­elected Pres­i­dent Trump has made about il­le­gal im­mi­grants al­legedly be­ing the cause of so much harm in the na­tion, things like this are likely to hap­pen far more of­ten. In­for­ma­tion is break­ing even as this ar­ti­cle was writ­ten, that the U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) or­ga­ni­za­tion is get­ting more ‘feet on the street’ soon to push more mi­grants out of the coun­try. Along with them will likely be a far higher than jus­ti­fied num­ber of im­mi­grant veter­ans also swept out by the same ‘new broom’.

The ACLU is help­ing by pro­vid­ing le­gal sup­port for some of th­ese im­mi­grant veter­ans who are cur­rently fac­ing de­por­ta­tion. The “Hon­or­ably Dis­charged, Dis­hon­or­ably De­ported” or­ga­ni­za­tion will also as­sist via le­gal work­shops it will hold this sum­mer, to help guide im­mi­grant veter­ans on how to ob­tain their cit­i­zen­ship.

The state of Cal­i­for­nia is also step­ping up to help as well. In the 2017-18 state bud­get, de­ported veter­ans with ties to Cal­i­for­nia are el­i­gi­ble for monies to pay for le­gal ser­vices fund­ing to help them with their im­mi­gra­tion and nat­u­ral­iza­tion cases. The state is also back­ing it with $45 mil­lion in its “One Cal­i­for­nia” fund, monies ex­plic­itly ear­marked for this pur­pose.

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