Immigration rules to protect US veterans are often ignored by DHS

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Image credit: GAO

The  U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a call this week for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “ensure that veterans receive appropriate levels of review before they are placed in removal proceedings.”

Throughout history, non-citizens have served in significant numbers and roles in the U.S. armed services, going back all the way to the Revolutionary War. Today’s non-citizen soldiers, seamen, and airmen continue to fill a necessary role in helping to maintain our military force requirements.

In today’s enlivened job market, with military recruiting numbers falling short of goals, immigrants are counted on to fill the gaps, to maintain DoD readiness levels.

In return for their sacrifices, it’s essential to live up to the nation’s obligations to those who have volunteered to serve in the defense of the country. Up front, the recruitment of qualified immigrants involves offering a path to citizenship or legal residency status, as well as providing those veterans with additional deportation protections.

The GAO Findings

On Thursday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing the findings of a five-year study that was requested by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, reviewing issues related to the deportation of non-citizen veterans.

“The Immigration and Nationality Act allows non-citizen service members to acquire citizenship, however, some veterans may not apply or may not satisfy all eligibility criteria,” according to the 40-page GAO report. “If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determines that a non-citizen veteran is potentially removable, the veteran may be subject to administrative immigration enforcement and removal.”

The United States deported 250 noncitizen veterans from 2013 through 2018, the agency discovered.

GAO investigators found that 70 percent of cases involving the deportation of noncitizen veterans didn’t get required reviews. “Some veterans who were removed may not have received the level of review and approval that ICE has determined is appropriate for cases involving veterans,” the agency said.

In the report’s summary, the GAO found …

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has developed policies for handling cases of noncitizen veterans who may be subject to removal from the United States, but does not consistently adhere to those policies, and does not consistently identify and track such veterans. When ICE agents and officers learn they have encountered a potentially removable veteran, ICE policies require them to take additional steps to proceed with the case. GAO found that ICE did not consistently follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings from fiscal years 2013 through 2018. Consistent implementation of its policies would help ICE better ensure that veterans receive appropriate levels of review before they are placed in removal proceedings. Additionally, ICE has not developed a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters during interviews, and in cases when agents and officers do learn they have encountered a veteran, ICE does not maintain complete electronic data. Therefore, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans’ cases.

The GAO report includes three recommendations for executive action:

  • The Director of ICE should take action to ensure consistent
    implementation of ICE’s policies for handling cases of potentially
    removable veterans.
  • The Director of ICE should develop and implement a policy or revise
    its current policies to ensure that ICE agents and officers identify and
    document veteran status when interviewing potentially removable
  • The Director of ICE should collect and maintain complete and
    electronic data on veterans in removal proceedings or who have been



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