Sen. Tammy Duckworth
(D-Ill.) urged Congress
to make it easier for immigrant veterans
to obtain U.S. citizenship
in exchange for their service, as well as to pass legislation to help those who have been deported under a complicated system that she claims often penalizes rather than protects.
Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient and Iraq War
veteran, testified before the Senate
Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration
, Citizenship, and Border Security
on Wednesday, shortly after releasing a report detailing the arduous process that noncitizen veterans face after their service.
“These are proud Americans who simply wish to become citizens of a nation whose uniform they have proudly worn in service; they are powerful assets,” the lawmaker testified, before noting that she had spoken with servicemembers who had instead been “detained and deported by the same country they are defending.”
“We don’t even know how many veterans have been deported because the United States government
refuses to keep a detailed record of the veterans and military family
members it so callously removes from our country,” she went on.
Immigrants willing to serve and defend our country deserve a genuine opportunity to obtain citizenship—not unnecessary barriers. It is the responsibility of the United States government to keep this promise to those who have bravely served. https://t.co/gJAtP6kyIr
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) June 23, 2021
The senator cited several actions by former President Donald Trump
, including a decision in 2018 to remove citizenship and immigration services from military training bases and an effort to extend the eligibility period before noncitizen enlistees could apply for expedited naturalization. The Trump administration
also closed a majority of its international field offices meant to assist servicemembers overseas.
The Obama administration also suspended a program known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, in 2016. A year later, Trump extended the suspension indefinitely, and the Army drew criticism for temporarily forcibly discharging hundreds of soldiers who enlisted as part of the program that offered skilled immigrants citizenship in exchange for their service.
However, broader issues persist throughout the government, according to the report, which found that between 2013 and 2018, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued deportation orders for 250 veterans, ultimately following through on 92 cases. Veterans deported to their home countries are unable to access full Veterans Affairs benefits, such as health care
compensation, even though they are entitled to them.
“While Congress has provided servicemembers with an expedited path to citizenship for over 200 years,” Duckworth said, “far too many men and women
who have worn our uniform never gain the citizenship they’ve earned through their service due to the unnecessary and complex barriers they face.”
Duckworth has said she plans to reintroduce bills that would prohibit the deportation of nonviolent offenders, and she has also called for the reinstatement of MAVNI and the reopening of overseas citizenship offices. She has also asked Congress to create a program to identify and bring home deported veterans, saying the country has a "duty to support our military members, veterans, and their families."
“These veterans are pleading with us for assistance,” Duckworth told her colleagues on Wednesday, adding, “We in Congress have the ability to take substantive, concrete action to bring these veterans home.”