Open Letter To President Trump: According to the Department of Defense, today more than 65,000 immigrants are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces following in a long line of immigrant soldiers dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Like all veterans, these foreign-born service members have given much to this country and they deserve the nation’s full support. It is encouraging that you agree with this when you said that we must “support the whole veteran, not just their physical health care, but also by addressing their visible wounds, investing in our service members’ post-active duty success.”
We can start to give life to your words by ending the deportation of veterans and their families and allowing those veterans already deported to return home.
[pullquote]Even after completing their sentences and paying fi nes, these patriots are still being treated like criminals by being placed in deportation proceedings.[/pullquote]
The burden of service and war weighed heavily on the mental and physical health of these veterans, as many suffered with problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, these veterans are arrested and imprisoned for behavior stemming directly from this, i.e addiction to drugs to escape the stress, violent behavior.
These problems fester in veteran communities in general. According to the Center for Military Health Policy Research, 20 percent of the vets who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some of these Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines never became citizens, rather, they remained as legal permanent residents or another designation that allowed them to live in the U.S. The military does not actively provide legal counsel to service members on immigration matters, which means that many are left to navigate our complex bureaucratic mess of an immigration system on their own.
While I was in Nevada, I met Marine veteran César López who was deported in 2012 after a drug conviction and deported to México, a country he hadn’t seen since he was four years old. He returned to the United States to be with his U.S. born wife and daughter.
I also met Hector Barajas, who was brought to the United States from México by his parents when he was seven years old. He proudly served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Like many soldiers, Barajas struggled with alcohol and drugs. After serving six years, he was honorably discharged. Hector struggled to adjust back to civilian life. He was arrested for shooting a gun from his vehicle. Nobody was hurt but he was charged with assault. Hector pled guilty, not knowing that, after serving his time in prison, he would be deported away from his daughter.
There is also the story of Alberto Segura whose daughter, Army solider Ashley Sietsema, was killed while on active duty in Kuwait. Alberto was broken following Ashley’s death and got three DUIs between 2008 and 2009. The third DUI landed him in immigration court facing deportation.
Even after completing their sentences and paying fines, these patriots are still being treated like criminals by being placed in deportation proceedings. Further, it is a national tragedy the only way most of the deported veterans will be able to return to the United States is by dying. By law, all military veterans honorably discharged are entitled to burial in a national cemetery.
López, Barajas, Segura are not alone – their story is just one among many veterans and military families whose service is doing nothing to prevent their deportation. Absent any threat to our national security, you can take the following action to right this wrong:
Immediate Moratorium on Veteran Deportation
The most effective manner to prevent the issue of veteran deportations from continuing in the short term is to grant a moratorium on all current and future veteran deportations immediately. This action would require the immediate release of any non-citizen veteran currently in the process of deportation.
In order to correct the disservice done to veterans that have already been affected, there must be immediate repatriation of all military veterans who have been deported or refused entry following their service.
Non-Citizen U.S. National Status Designation
To prevent future veteran deportations prior to any required changes in relevant statutes, there must be an immediate designation of ‘Non-Citizen U.S. National’ status on all non-citizens currently serving on active duty. Further, this designation should convert to full ‘Citizen’ status upon obtaining an honorable discharge (unless otherwise refused by the service member). Additionally, this designation should be extended retroactively to all United States military veterans.
As Commander-in-Chief, it is your duty to honor the veteran community. It is time to pick up your pen and show it in a meaningful way.
César Vargas is NY’s 1st Openly Undocumented Attorney. He is the former National Latino Strategist for the Bernie Sanders campaign.