A new report has found that the U.S. government, since the end of the Vietnam War, has deported 239 undocumented veterans who—for one reason or another—hadn't naturalized as U.S. citizens.
And the number could be much higher.
The report, released Wednesday by the ACLU of California, blames the U.S. government for failing to ensure its service members became naturalized citizens during their military careers—a move that would have protected them from deportation. The report says that each of the 239 deported veterans were entitled to citizenship because of their military service.
The report, titled Discharged, Then Discarded, includes in-depth analysis of the cases of 59 veterans who were ousted from the United States or are currently facing deportation proceedings. In some cases, the federal government lost, misplaced or failed to file the applications for veterans who applied for citizenship.
The vast majority of the veterans who were deported had lived in the United States since they were children, and many have children who are U.S. citizens. The veterans were deported after being charged with a criminal offense and serving a sentence. Deportation was in effect a double punishment after doing time.
Hector Barajas, an Army veteran who served for more than five years before being deported to Mexico in 2004, says he hopes the report serves as "ammunition" in for deported veterans trying to return to the U.S. He said he hopes that lawmakers and leaders at Veterans Affairs will read it and act.
“It’s going to make a huge impact to get us home,” said Barajas, who runs the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana and helped the ACLU identify the number of deported veterans.
“The 239 number mentioned in the report only includes the deported veterans that we learned about through personal contact or news articles, but the actual number is much higher,” Barajas told Fusion. “There’s going to be hundreds if not thousands more deported veterans.”
The report provides some key recommendations, including a call for judges to use judicial discretion and consider factors such as military service in cases involving deportation.
“By requiring deportation and stripping immigration courts of the power to consider military service, the United States government abandons these veterans by expelling them to foreign countries at the moment when they most need the government’s help to rehabilitate their lives after service,” Bardis Vakili, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of California, said in a statement. “This is a tragic and disgraceful example of how broken our immigration system is.”
The report notes the “tragic irony of the legal situation of deported veterans is that they are entitled to return to the U.S. dead, but not alive.”