March 14, 2016 (SACRAMENTO) California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher won approval from the Assembly Judiciary Committee today for her legislation to create a legal assistance fund for veterans who have been deported in contradiction of the promise of expedited citizenship that immigrant soldiers receive. The measure, AB 386, was approved on a 8-1 vote.
“Immigrants who serve and fight for our country earn the right to become citizens. That’s common sense, it’s a powerful way to recruit bright and talented young men and women, and it’s federal law. But instead of keeping our promises, we’ve kicked these veterans out of the country they fought for,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. “They’ve earned the right to return to this country as Americans, and make restitution for their mistakes as Americans.”
A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU) of California titled “Discharged, Then Discarded” highlighted the federal government’s cruel policy of deporting immigrant veterans for minor, misdemeanor offenses, such as possession of marijuana.
The ACLU estimates more than 250 veterans have been deported to 34 countries, although the precise number of deported veterans is unclear, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for the deportations, does not keep track of those figures. An estimated 70,000 noncitizens enlisted in the U.S. military from 1999 to 2008, according to the Center for Naval Analyses, a research and development center for the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps.
Special provisions of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act authorize U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expedite the application and naturalization process for current members of the U.S. Armed Forces and recently discharged service members. These provisions are being flouted or ignored when it comes to these veterans, many of whom came to the United States as children, grew up here, and consider themselves patriotic Americans. In many cases, the veterans who are deported are sent to countries with which they do not speak the language or have any real connection.