Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) this week cosponsored two bills intended to protect veterans and service members—men and women who have proven they are willing to lay down their lives to defend America—from being deported. The bills, sponsored by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran, would help keep our promises to these brave individuals by preventing the Administration from deporting veterans, giving legal permanent residents a path to citizenship through military service, and establishing naturalization offices at military training facilities.
“These bills will help us honor our commitment to veterans and service members seeking U.S. citizenship,” said Cortez Masto. “Unfortunately, the programs that exist to help eligible noncitizen military service members complete their naturalization process are often under-resourced and inconsistent. If passed, these bills would allocate resources to help ensure that qualified military members in Nevada and across the country receive the guidance and support they need on their pathway to citizenship. I am proud to have co-sponsored this legislation to support the men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep our nation safe.”
A 2016 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) study identified 239 non-citizen veterans who have been deported from the United States in recent years – and some experts believe the actual number of deported veterans is significantly higher.
While most deported veterans would have been eligible for naturalization when they were in the military, the U.S. government in many cases failed to prioritize assisting non-citizen service members with completing the naturalization process. Because of this lack of follow-through, some veterans who thought they had become citizens found out later that they were vulnerable to deportation because their paperwork had never been processed.
Once a veteran is deported, they are usually unable to access the VA benefits they have earned and would receive if they were still living in the United States. Many have trouble accessing even basic medical care, which is particularly problematic because veterans struggle with higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and physical health problems like chronic pain than the general population. Many deported veterans have also been separated from their families and their children, who live in the United States. Veterans deported to Mexico or Central America also are vulnerable to threats from gangs and drug cartels because of their military experience.
The following bills were cosponsored this week by Senator Cortez Masto:
- The Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS) Act of 2017 would identify non-citizens who are currently serving or who have served in the armed forces when they are applying for immigration benefits or when placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to annotate all immigration and naturalization records to reflect their service records. This information will enable DHS to “fast track” veterans and service members who are applying for naturalization, while also allowing officials to practice prosecutorial discretion, if appropriate, when adjudicating their cases.
- The Naturalization at Training Sites (NATS) Act of 2017 would establish a naturalization office at each initial military training site to identify and conduct outreach to non-citizen service members to ensure the government follows through on its promise to help them become American citizens.