Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Thursday introduced a suite of new legislative proposals barring deportation of military veterans convicted of nonviolent offenses, and requiring naturalization offices at all military training sites to ensure noncitizen soldiers can gain citizenship.
The Illinois Democrat’s bills, which are similar to legislation being proposed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the House, would also let deported veterans convicted of nonviolent offenses reenter the country to access Veterans Administration health care facilities, and allow deported veterans to apply for visas to permanently return to the US, among other provisions.
“Men and women willing to wear our uniform shouldn’t be deported by the same nation they risked their lives to defend,” Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and former deputy secretary at the Veterans Administration, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
In addition to ending deportations of veterans, lawmakers have been increasingly concerned about the lack of medical care for deported veterans. Many, particularly in towns along the US–Mexico border, live in homeless shelters, with medical conditions — ranging from injuries suffered while on active duty, to drug and alcohol addiction — that often go untreated.
Although Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin has said he’s open to discussing potential steps to ensure access to care for deportees, thus far the Trump administration hasn’t taken up the issue.
Like the House legislation, Duckworth’s package of bills would allow veterans deported due to nonviolent criminal convictions to return to the US to visit VA hospitals for treatment of service-related conditions.
Because under current law the Department of Homeland Security is not required to track the number of veterans who have been deported, it’s unclear how many have been removed from the US. Although activists have identified hundreds of veterans in Mexico and other countries, the number is likely significantly higher. In order to get a better handle on the population of veterans who could be deported, Duckworth, along with Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, is also proposing legislation requiring DHS to identify current and former noncitizen members of the military. That would allow DHS to “fast track” veterans’ applications for citizenship, and to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in handling deportations of veterans.
In a statement, Cortez Masto argued the legislation is needed to “allocate resources to help ensure that qualified military members in Nevada and across the country receive the guidance and support they need on their pathway to citizenship.”