The Biden administration said Friday that it plans to invite back U.S. veterans who have been deported, along with their immediate family members, and pledged to ensure that those veterans receive their benefits.
“It’s our responsibility to serve all veterans as well as they have served us – no matter who they are, where they are from, or the status of their citizenship,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis R. McDonough said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
“Keeping that promise means ensuring that noncitizen service members, veterans, and their families are guaranteed a place in the country they swore an oath – and in many cases fought – to defend. We at VA are proud to work alongside (the Department of Homeland Security) to make that happen.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas directed immigration authorities to “immediately conduct a review of policies and practices” to ensure that eligible current and former noncitizens who served in the military can remain or return to the U.S.
Long Beach resident Martha Garcia is hopeful that will mean the return of her son, Jose Segovia Benitez, a former legal permanent resident who served in the U.S. Marines. He was honorably discharged but was deported in 2019 after running afoul of the law.
“I wish with all my heart that he be returned home,” Garcia said Friday. “He’s in danger over there.”
Segovia, a 1999 Poly High School graduate, was deported to his native El Salvador, a country he had last seen when he was 3 years old. Prior to his deportation, Segovia served time for domestic violence and other felony convictions after returning home from combat tours in Iraq. But his family and other supporters said he suffered a brain injury from a blast in Iraq and never received proper medical care for that injury or post traumatic stress. They said his behavior changed after his stint in the military.
The joint statement by DHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a “robust interagency coordination effort” to create a resource center, remove barriers to naturalization for eligible individuals, and “review removal policies and practices to avoid future unjust removals.”
Immigration agencies, the statement read, “will develop a rigorous, systemic approach to review the cases of individuals whose removals failed to live up to our highest values.”
It’s unclear how many people this would affect. The government does not track how many veterans it deports, though veteran groups have tracked hundreds of cases and some argued that veteran deportations jumped when Donald Trump was president. In 2017, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus put the number of deportations at close to 3,000.
Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU attorney who has been in talks with government agencies on the plan to ask veterans back into the United States, said specific criteria for who will qualify has not yet been announced. But the presumption is that the government will take another look at the cases of deported veterans and give credit to their military service, which was not being done, she said.
“It’s almost never the case that ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has given any credit due to their military service,” Pasquarella said Friday.
This new plan, she added, “signals the government’s commitment to reversing a long standing policy that not only failed to honor the promise of citizenship for service members but punished them by banishing them from the only country they’ve ever known and the country they served.”
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, applauded the administration’s move, saying in a statement: “Deported veterans are exiled from the country they were willing to die for.”
Takano, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was one of three Congress members who in February introduced the Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act, which among other things would prevent noncitizen veterans from being deported and could also bring back certain eligible deported vets back to the United States.
Source: Orange County Register