Last week President Obama spoke at a naturalization ceremony for armed service members. Immigrants from 16 different countries had earned U. S. citizenship while serving in the military. Their contributions were drowned out by the chorus of rage towards immigrants emanating from Arizona politics.
When asked for their comments about the ceremony, immigration critics instead voiced sound-bite complaints about immigrants – about how immigrants abuse U. S. services, like hospitals and schools, for free without contributing anything positive to our society.
Immigrants In The Military
According to Banished Veterans, more than 30,000 immigrants currently serve in the U. S. armed services. Most risk their lives for the sake of freedom and equality.
The biggest contingencies of immigrants serving in our military ranks are from the Philippines, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Trindad and Tobago, Columbia, South Korea, and Peru.
According to the Cato Institute, a non-profit public policy research foundation, over 20% of the Congressional Medals of Honor recipients are immigrants. This means more than 700 immigrants have earned our nation’s highest award for battlefield valor. They have served our country during wars with heroism “beyond the call of duty” – many of them losing their lives or being seriously injured.
Contrary to immigration critics, these sacrifices are not meaningless.
Citizenship Promises, Deportation Realities
As an immigration attorney specializing in deportation defense, I’ve seen the trauma many military veterans experience when they return home.
Pyschological and emotional adjustment takes time. During this period, some veterans have problems with their marital relationships; others get into small troubles with the law. These types of problems are usually caused, in part, by trauma which is left undiagnosed and untreated.
For immigrant veterans, these adjustment difficulties can lead to deportation problems.
Take Rohan Coombs.
A U. S. Marine Corps veteran who served during the Persian Gulf War, Coombs now sits in immigration detention at El Centro, California.
When Coombs returned home, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was never treated for his condition. Shortly after his wife died, he was arrested for possession of six ounces of marijuana. His public defender persuaded him to accept a guilty plea.
Coombs spent eight months in state jail. On the day of his release, he was transferred to immigration authorities. He discovered he was not a U. S. citizen. The government began deportation proceedings against him.
Coombs was shocked. When he signed up for the military, Coombs was told that all he had to do was fill out an application for citizenship. The government would take care of the rest. He promptly filled out and submitted his application, a fact documented by immigration records showing they received his papers. They were never processed.
Now, Coombes, a permanent resident, falls under regulations which classify many non-violent misdemeanors as aggravated felonies under immigration law. These crimes lead to automatic loss of an immigrant’s lawful resident status – and deportation from a country served with dignity.
Coombs is not alone.
Approximately 3,000 immigrant military veterans from wars in Vietnam, Grenada, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan are presently imprisoned awaiting deportation. Some are being deported even though state courts did not impose any jail time for their infractions.
The vast majority of these cases involve nothing more serious than minor misdemeanors. Most of them are related to PTSD conditions.
As outlined in “Immigration Fairness: The Need to Restore Judicial Discretion In Deportation Cases, “ the rigidity of losing permanent resident status due to minor convictions demands overhaul.
Sadly, the attitude displayed by many immigration critics towards immigrant veterans is no different than the attitude they display towards immigrants in general.
They ignore, in DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s words, that “It takes a very special individual to serve and defend a nation that is not yet fully your own.”
In my view, a special waiver should be provided for immigrant veterans trapped in the deportation process due to minor offenses – a waiver which would allow veterans to complete the citizenship process based on their military service.