All across the United States, people will celebrate Veterans Day this weekend and on Monday, the day this holiday is officially marked. This is an opportune moment to reflect on the veterans who find themselves targeted for removal from the country they risked their lives to defend.
I haven’t seen any reliable numbers on the number of removed veterans. One advocacy group run by a deported veteran, the Banished Veterans Support House, estimates that as many as 40,000 veterans have been deported since 1996, but I don’t have any way of verifying that claim. What is true, though, is that tens of thousands of noncitizens serve in the armed forces—35,000 according to the Washington Post. All of these individuals are subject to removal if they fall afoul of immigration law.
As crImmigration.com readers are well aware, the line dividing compliance with immigration laws from noncompliance is notoriously thin. People can violate immigration law in all manner of ways—anything from a student who takes too few credit hours to conviction of any number of crimes.
The stress of military life would seem to accentuate this risk, especially for people who serve in combat. According to a study done by the Rand Corporation, “Nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan — 300,000 in all — report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment.” On occasion, this trauma can lead to criminal behavior. A report by the National Center for PTSD indicated that veterans who suffer from PTSD “committed 13.3 violent acts in the prior year, compared to 3.54 acts for [v]eterans without PTSD.” Cathy Ho Hartsfield, Deportation of Veterans: The Silent Battle for Naturalization, 64 Rutgers Law Review 835, 851 (2012) Indeed, of the approximately 140,000 veterans imprisoned in state or federal prisons in 2004, 30% reported a recent history of mental health services.
Acknowledging the trauma of combat, U.S. Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, introduced a bill that would require DHS—prior to initiating removal proceedings against an an honorably discharged veteran—that veteran’s naturalization eligibility, “and any hardship to the Armed Forces, the alien, and his or her family if the alien were to be placed in removal proceedings.” H.R. 932, Support and Defend Our Military Personnel and Their Families Act § 5. This bill was introduced in February 2013, but it has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.