The widely reported issue of deported veterans has finally seen some movement in the right direction. As activists, attorneys, and service members have stated, there is a substantial amount of misinformation and a lack of knowledge regarding the citizenship process for individuals in the military. For example, Jennie Pasquarella, the Director of Immigrants’ Rights and Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California testified to Congress that “[m]any deported veterans we interviewed never applied for naturalization during their service because they were led to believe that their service automatically made them citizens. In fact, many had been told just that by their recruiters or military chain of command.”
As a result, there are thousands of individuals who swore oaths to protect the U.S. and uphold the constitution, served in active duty, were honorably discharged, and then were subjected to removal proceedings and ultimately deported – essentially exiled for a decade or longer. Up to now, piecemeal efforts have been made to repatriate these veterans, with governors occasionally pardoning crimes, but no major policy changes have been made. On July 2nd, however, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, affirmed the Department’s commitment to “bringing back military service members, veterans, and their immediate family members who were unjustly removed and ensuring they receive the benefits to which they may be entitled.”
We are now seeing the first changes being made. On November 12th, 2021, USCIS issued policy guidance that removes some barriers deported veterans would face when seeking to naturalize. These include allowing former service members to file applications for travel authorization to enter the United States to attend a naturalization interview, allowing former service members to be interviewed at ports of entry rather than within the United States (important for those barred from re-entering), and permitting the Oath of Allegiance to be administered at a port of entry.
While this guidance alone is likely insufficient to solve the entire issue, it is a step in the right direction, and I am hopeful that we will continue to see changes to allow our veterans to return to the United States after years of exile.
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