The Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act, or S. 3212, aims to prevent the deportation of noncitizen veterans, improve the pathway to citizenship for noncitizen military service members, and grant deported noncitizen veterans an opportunity to return to the United States.
The bill would establish the Military Family Immigration Committee (MFIC), which would recommend whether deportable noncitizen veterans or their families should be granted a stay of removal, deferred action, parole, or be removed from the country. It would also direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to determine whether an individual in removal proceedings is a member of the armed forces or a veteran – and if so, to transfer their case materials to the MFIC. The bill would also require DHS to establish a program and application for veterans and their families who were removed from the United States to be admitted back into the country as lawful permanent residents.
The Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act was introduced in the Senate on November 15, 2021 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-California). It is a companion bill of H.R.1182, introduced in the House of Representatives on February 18, 2021 by Representative Mark Takano (D-California).
U.S. armed services have long relied on noncitizen Americans to help defend the country and ensure our national security. The Department of Defense (DOD) estimates that approximately 25,000 noncitizen Americans currently serve in the U.S. armed forces. Immigrant military service members and veterans who are not U.S. citizens are susceptible to deportation if they commit certain offenses, even if they served honorably in the military.
Many noncitizen veterans do not have access to proper care for service-related conditions — such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders — which can increase the risk of behaviors that lead to deportable offenses.
The exact number of deported veterans remains unknown due to the failure to collect consistent statistics. In June 2019, the Government Accountability Office reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had not tracked the number of deported veterans.
The Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act would:
- Establish the Military Family Immigration Advisory Committee. This committee would consider the circumstances and recommendations regarding a noncitizen veteran or their family’s deportation status.
- Improve the pathway to citizenship for military service members and their families. This would be enabled through a joint program between the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
- Return deported noncitizen veterans to the United States. The bill would require the DHS to establish a program for veterans and their families who were removed from the United States to be admitted back into the country as lawful permanent residents. The DHS is also required to reopen removal cases.
- Identify all deported noncitizen veterans. Under this bill, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security would be mandated to conduct a joint study and report on all veterans deported in the past two decades.
- Direct DHS to identify whether an individual in removal proceedings is an armed forces member, a veteran, or a covered family member. If an individual belongs to any of these categories, their case materials must then be transferred to the Military Family Immigration Advisory Committee.
- Direct the DHS Secretary to establish an annual training program. This program would require DHS personnel handling cases regarding noncitizen veterans to undergo training.