WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will review the deportations of veterans and military family members that occurred under the stricter immigration enforcement policies of former President Donald Trump, a White House official told McClatchy.
The review is part of Biden’s broader effort to undo some of Trump’s immigration policies.
For service members and veterans, Trump’s stricter policies at times led to immigrant soldiers or veterans having their naturalization applications denied at a higher rate than civilians not in the military, although by mid-2020 military naturalization approval rates had improved. Those policies also led to deportations of some veterans or family members of currently serving military personnel.
“The administration’s immigration enforcement will focus on those who are national security and public safety threats, not military families, service members or veterans,” White House assistant press secretary Vedant Patel said in a statement to McClatchy. “The federal government in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security will take further review of removals of veterans and their family members.”
Biden issued a series of executive actions earlier this month addressing immigration concerns, including to create a task force to reunite migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and revise the immigration court system.
Biden’s immigration executive orders also directed the Department of Homeland Security, the secretary of State and the attorney general to “facilitate naturalization for eligible candidates born abroad and members of the military, in consultation with the Department of Defense.”
Veterans have also been deported under previous administrations, including that of former President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president.
A 2019 Government Accountability Office report found that there were as many as 250 veterans in removal proceedings, however neither U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement nor the Justice Department had statistics available on how many military veterans or dependents were deported during the Trump administration. Both agencies said in statements to McClatchy they did not track that specific group of deportations.
Service members fearing that their spouse or a dependent may be deported “is a really common occurrence, probably more so than many Americans may realize,” said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla.
Active duty service members typically are not at risk of deportation, due to the legal status they must maintain to be able to serve.
Individuals do not have to be U.S. citizens to join the military. They can be legal permanent residents, commonly known as “Green Card” holders, foreign-born recruits with specialized language or medical skills or special status non-immigrant enlistees who are residents of the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Palau.
“We know at any particular time there may be as many as 8,000 to 10,000 service members, or spouses particularly, in the immigration process” seeking citizenship, Soto said, citing statistics from the nonpartisan immigration advocacy group American Families United.
In Kansas, retired Army Lt. Col. Patrick Schreiber is still asking the courts to reconsider the pending deportation of his adopted daughter, Hyebin.
Schreiber was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 when a critical deadline passed for Hyebin to be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.
In 2019 a federal appellate court split on whether Hyebin would have to leave the United States after completing college — she graduated from the University of Kansas in 2020 with a chemical engineering degree.
The family is still appealing the ruling, and COVID travel restrictions have meant that for now, Hyebin is still in the United States, but cannot get a job because she cannot get a work visa, the family’s attorney, Rehka Sharma-Crawford told McClatchy.
In 2018, Soto tried to get a reprieve for one of the military spouses in his Orlando-area district, Alejandra Juarez.
For years, former Marine Corps Sgt. “Temo” Juarez assumed his military service would protect his wife, Alejandra, who is from Mexico, from deportation. But immigration enforcement agents escorted her through the Orlando International Airport in August 2018 and onto a plane to Merida, Mexico, where she now lives.
“I thought there was a chance for her to stay,” Temo Juarez said in a phone interview. After she was sent to Mexico, Juarez said some of the soldiers and Marines he had served with reached out to offer support because he was caring for two daughters by himself.
“The whole day was kind of me and my dad and my sister in silence, because we didn’t know what to do,” Alejandra’s youngest daughter, Estela, 11, said about the day her mother was deported.
Estela made headlines in August 2020 when she read a letter she wrote to Trump about losing her mother at the Democratic National Convention. Last month, she wrote another letter, along with Soto to the White House asking Biden to look at her mother’s case and other deported military spouses.
Alejandra Juarez had entered the United States illegally in 1998 and she and Temo Juarez married in 2000. As a member of the Florida Army National Guard, he deployed to Iraq in 2003 where he served as a rooftop sniper in Baghdad after the Al Rasheed Hotel in the newly established Green Zone was hit by a rocket attack.
The deportation of their mother energized Juarez’s daughters Estela and Pamela, 19, to become politically active.
“I was scared to do it. I was like, what if my voice isn’t heard?” Estela said. “But then after I realized my voice was heard.”
Soto said the Juarez family story “is emblematic of so many families across the nation that were ripped apart by the prior administration’s zero tolerance policy.”
In January, Soto reintroduced legislation to seek a reprieve for Alejandra Juarez, and another bill, “Protect Patriot Spouses Act,” which would allow deported military spouses to obtain an immigrant visa to return to the United States to seek legal residency.
In the two years since her deportation, Juarez and his daughters have visited his wife in Mexico. Estela lived with her and went to school in Mexico until the COVID-19 outbreak and the family decided it was safer for her to return to Florida. Alejandra Juarez has also made friends with other military spouses who were deported. Not all of the families stay intact.
“The ones that are veterans, they have retired and moved to a country with their spouses where they don’t feel safe. The ones who are active [duty], or too young to retire, you know, they have to split,” Alejandra Juarez said in an interview from Mexico. “One veteran lady told me, ‘I give you two years. If in two years you don’t go back, your marriage is going to end.’”
Alejandra Juarez broke down when she heard the Biden administration would review the military veteran and dependent deportations. She is hoping the administration will grant her a humanitarian visa so she can return to the United States to be with her family.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “Because there’s so many people that need that. It’s not just me.”
This article is written by Tara Copp from Special to McClatchy Washington Bureau and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.