Bill Would Slow U.S. Veteran Deportations

Iimmigration and Customs Enforcement

A California congressman plans to file new legislation to make it more difficult to deport U.S. military veterans who are not citizens.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., previously filed the bill in December 2011 but it died in committee.

The bill will not help veterans who have already been booted from the country, but it will ensure due process and require the authorization of the Secretary of Homeland Security before vets could be deported.

Now, according to attorneys and advocates for deported veterans, immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are able to boot veterans from the U.S. with the minimal amount of process even over questionable cases sometimes many years old.

Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney in Alaska and an Army Reserve officer, said immigration officials are very aggressive in trying to deport people, regardless of their veteran’s status. She said that in some cases job performances are based on the numbers you rack up, giving agents more incentive to make cases.

Stock’s claim is backed up by internal ICE emails cited in a Feb. 14 USA Today article in which an ICE field office’s supervisor warned regional chiefs that criminal deportations had dropped from 2011 and that the “only performance measure that will count this fiscal year is the criminal alien removal target.”

In an effort to do that, the paper reported, ICE officials trolled through state driver’s license records for information on foreign-born applicants, sent agents to traffic checkpoints manned by police looking for immigrants, and scoped out immigrants who have been charged for small-time offenses in local lock-ups.

A recent report by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, further hinted at overzealousness by ICE agents, criticizing the agency for expelling American citizens.

“ICE cannot assert its civil immigration enforcement authority to arrest, detain, or deport an individual unless the person arrested is an alien,” the IG stated. “Nonetheless, ICE has arrested and in some instances deported U.S. citizens.”

ICE has not responded to’s request for comment.

The provisions of the bill, expected to be filed this month will likely be the same as those spelled out in the earlier version, H.R. 3761, according to Thompson spokesman Austin Vevurka.

Vevurka said that with both Democrats and Republicans now talking about reforming the country’s immigration policy, Thompson believes the time may be right to get his bill to the floor and passed.

In addition to requiring the head of the Department of Homeland to sign off on deporting an honorably discharged veteran, it will also guarantee that the vet get a hearing before a judge. The bill also stipulates that DHS must factor in a vet’s eligibility for naturalization, and weigh the grounds for removing him against his military record and the hardship deportation would cause to him or his family.

Some of this has been on the books for awhile, according to Stock, but ICE has simply ignored it. According to a June 4, 2004, ICE memo, agents are supposed to ask about veteran’s status and inform the non-resident vet that he has the right to apply for citizenship even while being processed for deportation.“They are supposed to take into account military service before making a decision to deport someone,” she said.

Under a law passed in the mid-1990s a legal resident, including U.S. military veterans, can have their legal residency pulled and be deported if convicted of a crime, including crimes that occurred years earlier and for which the person has served his sentence.

Since then, the U.S. has deported thousands of honorably discharged veterans. Critics say the application of the law has worsened since the 9/11 attacks, after customs and immigration were placed under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Stock and others say no one knows how many vets have been booted because ICE has shown little or no interest in documenting the veteran’s status of people they move to deport.

If Thompson’s bill does contain the same provisions as his last one, it will mean that an immigration officer encountering a non-citizen veteran with a conviction at an airport or port of entry could not simply order him out of the country, which Stock says the law now permits. It would also put the brakes on the speedy deportations of veterans by designating them as aggravated felons eligible for special removal proceedings.

Finally, she said, agents would not be able to deport a veteran merely because he had been previously been given an order for deportation. Stock said this happens when a person is mistakenly ordered out; later, another agent will see the record and immediately place the person on deportation.

“The bill doesn’t say that [veterans] can’t be deported,” Stock said. “It just says that the government can’t use its favored ‘quick and dirty’ deportation processes to get rid of honorably discharged veterans— it has to give them full due process.”

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