Senator introduces legislation to address deportation and other challenges for immigrant veterans
Stars and Stripes November 10, 2023
WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., reintroduced a package of bills on Thursday that would address the deportation of immigrants who served in the U.S. military and ensure they have access to resources at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The reality is far too many men and women have been deported by the very same nation they risked their lives to defend,” she said. “Our deported immigrant veterans fought for this country, and it is past time we fight for them, too.”
The Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile, or HOPE, Act would give the secretary of Department of Homeland Security discretion to allow nonviolent, deported immigrant veterans to return temporarily to the United States for treatment at a VA facility on a case-by-case basis. Immigrants who served are like other veterans who can struggle with mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Noncitizens can face deportation if convicted of even minor criminal offenses, effectively cutting off access to needed treatment through the VA.
The Veterans Visa and Protection Act aims to streamline the citizenship process, create a path for those who are deported to return home and allow them to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident during the removal process.
The third bill is the Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System, or I-VETS, Act. This legislation directs the secretary of Homeland Security to identify and track immigrants who are serving in the U.S. armed forces or who have served, which could protect them from deportation and help facilitate the citizenship process as well.
Duckworth, who introduced the bills before Veterans Day on Saturday, said it is difficult to know for certain how many immigrant veterans have been deported, but it continues to be a major problem.
“The rates of deportations are not as high as they used to be under [former President Donald Trump’s] administration, but we still have a problem,” she said. “We still have veterans who are stuck overseas, who because of the systems that are in place are not able to come back into the country to get the help that they need.”
Trump in 2017 paused the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MANVI, program, which recruited more than 10,000 noncitizens with medical, cyber, language and other skills into the military, according to a Duckworth report in 2021. Thousands were left in limbo because of Trump’s actions.
President Joe Biden announced a directive in 2021 for changes to the legal immigration system, which included helping to facilitate citizenship for immigrant veterans. The move, however, was considered by some veteran advocates as a temporary fix to a larger problem.
Duckworth, a former Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot and Iraq War veteran, has tried to get this package of bills passed previously. A group of Democratic lawmakers in the House also reintroduced a bill this year to make the process easier for immigrant service members and help those deported without a serious crime conviction to obtain legal permanent resident status.
It is not clear whether the Republican-controlled House will move on such legislation. Duckworth said she is confident her latest bills can be passed in Congress or inserted into larger legislation.
“We’re going to try and do what we can to get this across the finish line,” she said. “If we’re going to honor our veterans on Veterans Day, then we need to honor all of our veterans on Veterans Day.”