Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

ACLU Report Documents Struggle Of Deported Veterans

Children hold signs at a news conference for the  American Civil Liberties Union of California, July 6, 2016.
Nicholas McVicker
Children hold signs at a news conference for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, July 6, 2016.

ACLU Report Documents Struggle Of Deported Veterans
ACLU Report Documents Deported Veterans Struggle GUEST: Jean Guerrero, reporter, KPBS

In the news today President Obama announced more troops are staying in Afghanistan through 2016 than originally planned. 8400 troops will remain there roughly 50 years after the US invaded in the aftermath of 9/11. The president said the US mission would obtain -- retain focus on security. Security forces are not as strong as any to be they improve intelligence logistics and demand control 38 Americans have lost their lives in Afghanistan in the past year and a half. One way to gain citizenship is to sign up for the armed forces but the ACLU of California released a report today on the struggles of deported veterans. The report documents 84 cases and accuse the federal government of failing to naturalize immigrants. Gene -- Jean Guerrero joins us with more on the report. You are avenues conference what struck you about the report? I am still here. The just finished talking about the findings. What I found was interesting is the fact that these deported veterans face a lot of the same problems that regular immigrants who are deported face. They are behind US citizen family members some of them afterward struggle with mental illness there was a documented case of suicide after a veteran was -- deported. They also have some very distinct and unique issues for example they are targeted by cartels who want to recruit them because of their military expertise and so in many cases when they refuse they face death threats either personally or to the families and they definitely are facing more issues than the normal deported immigrants with. Why are they being deported. If they commit a crime that put their status at risk? With the ACLU found and was reported is that because of changes to immigration laws about 20 years ago that eliminated the power of discussion to consider things like military service and family ties etc. and the decision and in many cases and when they commit minor offenses and related crimes and dui and sometimes one of the other common concepts that were found. In many cases these crimes are found to be related to the military service and they were medicating [ Iinaudible ] in many of these cases there are times that does not allow the military service to be taken into account Is there any kind of a Barb above are a below that they know that there are misdemeanors or felonies it sounds like some of the crimes are quite minor. In many cases they are misdemeanors so there is not there considered aggravated felonies because of these changes.. The figure that was discussed at the press conference was at least 80,000 have been recorded since the changes to immigration laws took affect. It could be as many as 200,000 but at least 80,000. I understand the ACLU has outlined some recommendations for the proposing. They have a very long list of recommendations with the Department of Defense or homeland security is very comprehensive but some of the most interesting ones are to create a mechanism for veterans and they also want to make it easier for veterans to naturalize when they start serving a military and those are policy recommendations for Congress. For customs enforcement they are saying that they should now required to ask.

ACLU Report Documents Struggle Of Deported Veterans
The report released Tuesday highlights 84 cases of immigrants who served in the U.S. military and have been deported or are currently facing deportation.

Enrique Salas, who served four years in the Marines and was eligible for citizenship, was deported to Mexico about a decade ago.

His mistake? After his brother was killed in a military training accident, Salas began to use drugs. He served a six-month sentence for possession of a controlled substance. In 2006, his criminal record led to his deportation.

Salas is one of 84 foreign-born veterans featured in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, “Discharged, then Discarded.” They were either deported or are facing deportation. In Mexico, they face threats from drug cartels seeking to recruit them because of their military expertise.

The ACLU is calling for new laws that would allow these veterans to return to the U.S. and make it easier for immigrants in the armed forces to become citizens. The report accuses the federal government of failing to provide “clear and accurate information” to foreign-born veterans about their naturalization eligibility.

“This reports shows how the federal government has failed these veterans,” said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights and senior staff attorney for the ACLU of California, in a news release.

“They were told they were American enough to fight our wars and serve our country, and then deported and discarded. That’s unacceptable. The U.S. government must do right by these men and women,” Pasquarella said.

Changes to immigration laws in the 1990s increased the types of criminal convictions that can result in deportation, including minor drug offenses. They also removed the authority of immigration judges to offer leniency to veterans.

According to the report, most deported veterans are guilty of minor drug offenses, including self-medicating for psychological problems tied to their military service.

“The brave men and women in our military who have fought our country’s wars abroad have now become victims of our nation’s war on immigrant communities,” said Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of San Diego. “While our service members live every day with the creed that they will leave no man behind, a belief that applies regardless of what side of some boundary you were born on, Congress has left no room for such sentiment.”

Many of them left behind U.S. citizen family members, some of whom suffer from physical and mental health problems tied to the deportation, including one documented suicide.

The 23-year-old daughter of the deported veteran Salas, Stephanie Rabara, is a U.S. citizen who lives in San Diego. She said her father raised her as a single parent.

“Why my dad would ever be taken from me after he served our country is mind blowing to me,” she said during a press conference about the report. “He’s the only parent I have.”

Rabara was 13 years old when her father was deported.

Jan Ruhman of the Deported Veterans Support Group/USA estimates that about 80,000 veterans have been deported in the past two decades.

He said nine deported veterans died last year in Baja California for diseases treatable in the U.S., such as tuberculosis and AIDS.

“We need to stop saying we’re going to support the troops unless we mean it,” he said. “Some of these slogans seem really shameful in light of how we’re treating these veterans.”

Death At The Border-cross_t700_t480.jpeg
Matthew Bowler
Hundreds of unidentified migrants are buried in this Imperial County cemetery, June 28, 2016.