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MOAA Gives a Voice to Immigrant Servicemembers, Veterans, and Their Families

MOAA Gives a Voice to Immigrant Servicemembers, Veterans, and Their Families
Army veteran Hector Barajas-Varela testifies Oct. 29 before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. (Screengrab via House.gov)

MOAA submitted a statement for the record before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for an Oct. 29 hearing that addressed the impact of immigration policies on servicemembers, veterans, and their families. A number of recent policy and rule changes by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) affect military populations both directly and indirectly.

MOAA does not support any policy changes that fail to credit military service as a path to citizenship for servicemembers and their families, and urges Congress to take the following actions:

  • Protect Parole in Place for military families.
  • Ensure military naturalizations are expedited, and allow recruits to participate in basic training while their background check is in process.
  • Reverse the recent definition change regarding citizenship for military children born overseas.
  • Exempt veterans, National Guard members, and their families from the “public charge” rule.
  • Consider the impact of The Dream Act of 2019 on recruitment of an all-volunteer force.
  • Oversee DHS’s implementation of Government Accountability Office recommendations to improve process of screening veterans prior to removal from U.S.

 

Most of the Oct. 29 hearing focused on the military naturalization process and lack of consideration for deported veterans.

 “There is no expedited process for citizenship in the military,” said Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, USAR (Ret), a MOAA life member and noted immigration lawyer with a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. “It is much easier for a civilian green card holder to naturalize than a similar servicemember green card holder.”

[RELATED: MOAA's Spouse and Family Page]

According to witness testimony, the expedited process for naturalization in the military has been eroded through internal DoD policy memos, while successful programs previously in place to assist servicemembers with the naturalization process have been terminated.

These processes and programs would have served as an essential resource for non-citizen servicemembers prior to getting out of the military. Witness testimony from Hector Barajas-Varela, founder of the Deported Veterans Support House, speaks to the vulnerabilities of non-citizen veterans who get into legal trouble as they struggle with service-related PTSD, TBI, or other issues. 

“Being a veteran does not mean you get a free pass and never have to pay the consequences for your actions,” said Barajas-Varela, a once-deported Army veteran.  “At the same time, it does not make sense to me to deport our veterans after they have completed their sentence and paid for their actions.”

Many immigration lawyers and advocates see this as a double punishment that could be prevented if servicemembers were naturalized during their military service.

“Under today’s laws, most deported veterans will only come home to America once they die,” Barajas-Varela said. “They will come back to the U.S. with an American flag draped around their casket so that they can be buried in a military cemetery. There is no honor in bringing deported veterans home to be recognized or thanked for our service only when we die.”

The effect of current immigration policies also extends to military families. A bipartisan contingent of House Judiciary committee members recently introduced H.R. 4803, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act, to correct the recent DHS definition change that would prevent certain military children borne overseas from obtaining automatic citizenship. A bipartisan Senate companion bill was introduced by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga).

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About the Author

Eryn Wagnon

Eryn Wagnon came to MOAA in May 2018 as a military spouse fellow sponsored by the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program. She joined the MOAA staff permanently in July 2018 as director, military family policy and spouse programs.