The Government Accountability Office has a recommendation for Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Check to see whether the people it picks up are military veterans before kicking them out of the country.
"We recommended that ICE collect and maintain data on veterans" in accordance with long-established rules at the agency to avoid deporting individuals who may be eligible to stay, the 40-page GAO report states.
From 2013 to 2018, ICE failed to follow its own policies requiring agents to consider a veteran's military record before beginning the process of removal from the country, according to the report. Time in service, awards and deployments are all among factors that are supposed to be weighed when making a deportment decision.
The policies also call for deportation cases that might involve veterans to be referred to higher headquarters for a decision. Those policies also were not followed, the report states.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of ICE, said they didn't consider the veteran and non-veteran status in removal proceedings and were unaware of policies to the contrary.
"Through its policies, ICE has established that these noncitizen veterans warrant special consideration in the event that they become subject to immigration enforcement and removal from the United States," GAO officials wrote. "However, because ICE did not consistently adhere to these policies, some veterans who were removed may not have received the level of review and approval that ICE has determined is appropriate for cases involving veterans."
In addition, ICE "does not know exactly how many veterans have been placed in removal proceedings or removed," the report states.
In a letter Thursday to Acting ICE Director Mark Morgan, California Democrats Mark Takano, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Juan Vargas said the nation "cannot allow non-citizen veterans to fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system."
"Deporting veterans represents a failure by our government that could have been prevented if ICE officials had been adhering to agency policies," the lawmakers' letter states. "This level of carelessness and disregard for official procedures is negligent and unacceptable."
In response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security agreed with the GAO's findings and concurred with recommendations to "develop a policy or revise its current policies to identify and document veterans, and to collect and maintain complete data on veterans" who are either in removal proceedings or who have already been removed.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.