President Joe Biden is due to issue more than a dozen executive orders within his first days in office, and one senator and Army veteran is hoping to convince him to sign another.
As Biden’s inauguration ceremony got underway, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., sent his office a letter pleading for him to take a look at the path to citizenship for service members, veterans and their dependents, the twists and turns of which have ended in deportation for some in recent years, though legislation meant to expedite the pathway to citizenship while serving is on the books.
“Yet, despite these efforts, many servicemembers are deploying without their citizenship,” Duckworth wrote in the letter. “Some have no valid immigration status as they fight overseas, and fear that they will be detained and deported when they return. Some honorably serve and fight in combat overseas only to be discharged without receiving citizenship.”
Throughout President Donald Trump’s administration, stories emerged not only of veterans being deported for crimes committed after serving, but of prospective troops losing their legal immigration status as they waited to ship to basic training.
Though Congress has passed legislation that expedites the path to citizenship for veterans, a series of policy changes beginning in 2017 made it harder for troops and veterans to complete their citizenships, including removing U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services representatives from domestic training and overseas bases, a resource many new enlistees used to get their paperwork started.
“Eliminating military naturalization services leaves military heroes vulnerable to deportation,” Duckworth wrote. “Indeed, many have been unfairly deported in recent years given the unforgiving nature of our immigration laws.”
In the letter, Duckworth outlined a series of proposed changes, including prohibiting the deportation of veterans, a visa program to help already deported veterans re-enter the country to complete naturalization, require the Homeland Security Department to note veteran status on all immigration documentation and to require that all noncitizens who enlist immediately receive conditional legal permanent resident status.
She also asked that Biden also require protection for the noncitizen family members of troops and veterans, including allowing them to apply for temporary legal residency status during deportation proceedings and improving their pathway to legal citizenship.
Though Biden has not specifically address the issue of military immigration, he has address both separately.
“I will be a commander in chief who always lives up to our most sacred obligation to protect our men and women in uniform and honors the sacrifice they and their families make,” Biden said in a September release.
Some of his executive order priorities include reducing the backlog of more than one million immigration court cases, as well as deprioritizing deportation for undocumented immigrations, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.