EDITORIAL: We must be home to all of our brave

Theoretically, soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War were not U.S. citizens. But they did so for what they hoped would be their new country, and for the love of it.

In 2018, this theory is still just as relevant as there are thousands of noncitizen soldiers who fight and serve in our U.S. military for our nation — a nation that they should be allowed to legally call their home.

As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., prepare to take up immigration reform — which they have promised they will begin to do after passing a budget bill — preparing a path forward for citizenship, and reducing deportation of these servicemen and women should be a priority.

Deporting those who have faithfully served in our U.S. military is not right and should not be commonplace.

Nevertheless, thousands of noncitizen veterans have been deported — many for offenses, like DUI and substance abuse, the origins of which can be traced back to their time of service, according to a report released last week by the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Moreover, thousands of noncitizen veterans have been incarcerated prior to being deported.

This does not help to reform the veterans, but it also burdens U.S.

taxpayers with funding high incarceration costs and then deportation fees. In 2016, the U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reported it spent on average $10,854 per person per deportation.

The TCRP report, however, states other estimates put these costs much higher around $23,000 per deportation.

As an example, in its report released Thursday, “Land of The Free, No Home to the Brave: A Report on the Social, Economic, and Moral Cost of Deporting Veterans,” the TCRP cited that on June 30, 2017, there were 34 noncitizen veterans incarcerated within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If all of these noncitizen veterans were transferred to ICE and put into removal proceedings, the report estimates it would cost between $369,036 to $782,000 to deport them.

This discrimination, lack of concern for healthful reform methods for these veterans, and excessive costs to taxpayers must change. Because as the report notes: “Current military programs and immigration laws and policies discriminate against noncitizen veterans, by subjecting them to disparate treatment compared to their citizen counterparts.

This discrimination creates a social, economic, and moral disservice to both the veterans who served this country and the communities in which they live.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill must recognize the sacrifices these veterans make for “our” country and help to accommodate them, just as lawmakers have been pushing for a path to citizenship that will accommodate Dreamer youth who were brought here illegally and who attend school, work and some of which serve in our military.

As Carlos Moctezuma Garcia, a McAllen lawyer, aptly noted in a foreward to the report: “This report comes at a critical point in time. With immigration reform front and center in the national debate, it is critical for everyone to realize that veterans are sometimes also caught in the webs of our outdated and dysfunctional immigration laws.”

Current immigration laws allow noncitizen service members the opportunity to gain U.S. citizenship through military service, but it is in no way a guarantee.

Many veterans suffer from PTSD and other combat traumas that can lead them to criminal activities, like substance abuse. For a noncitizen veteran, this can result in incarceration followed by deportation.

From 1999 to 2010 over 80,000 noncitizens enlisted in the U.S. military but during that time frame only 53,000 service members became naturalized U.S. citizens, the report states.

Legal permanent residents, those with green cards, may enlist for military service. But there are ways around this the report notes, stating: “The military does not currently allow noncitizens with no immigration status to serve in the military.

However, undocumented immigrants are required to register with the Selective Service System, which makes them eligible for conscription to the U.S. military.”

The report also states that noncitizens are often misinformed and misled into enlisting into service, believing that they will automatically get U.S.

citizenship. Better education and outreach must occur. Every branch of service should provide full and accurate preenlistment information to every noncitizen enlistee and pair them with a knowledgeable information officer to help them navigate how to naturalize through service.

Also, we agree with the TCRP that the federal government should “narrow the scope of crimes that carry immigration consequences” when dealing with veterans who have served our U.S.

military. This could be accomplished by more veteran treatment courts and support services to reduce recidivism, as well as more veteran mental health counseling.

Finally, as every veteran brings with him or her special qualities to our U.S. military, so should special discretion be afforded to them by judges during removal proceedings to help avoid deportations of those who have put their life on the line for our country’s freedom.

As Garcia noted: “Only by understanding a problem are we able to resolve it.”

Indeed our lawmakers in Washington must try.

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