The White House announced a plan for deported veterans to return to the United States including a plan for citizenship.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs joined forces to bring veterans who have been "unjustly deported" from the United States over the past 25 years "home," DHS announced in a statement.
Alejandro N. Mayorcas, secretary of DHS, and Denis R. McDough, secretary of the VA, jointly announced the initiative in support of veterans and their families.
“The Department of Homeland Security recognizes the profound commitment and sacrifice that service members and their families have made to the United States of America,” Secretary Mayorkas said. “Together with our partner the Department of Veterans Affairs, we are committed to bringing back military service members, veterans, and their immediate family members who were unjustly removed and ensuring they receive the benefits to which they may be entitled. Today we are taking important steps to make that a reality.”
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“It’s our responsibility to serve all veterans as well as they have served us – no matter who they are, where they are from, or the status of their citizenship,” Secretary McDonough said. “Keeping that promise means ensuring that noncitizen service members, veterans, and their families are guaranteed a place in the country they swore an oath – and in many cases fought – to defend. We at VA are proud to work alongside DHS as to make that happen.”
According to the release, both administrations are working together to identify deported veterans to receive the benefits all veterans deserve, including COVID-19 vaccines.
Mayorcas ordered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to immediately review "policies and practices to ensure" that all those who served in the military and their immediate families can "remain in or return to the United States." He added that it will seek to remove barriers to citizenship for those eligible, as well as improve access to immigration services.
The news was enthusiastically received by the American Union of Civil Liberty, Southern California, San Diego and Imperial County.
The ACLU has worked with several nonprofits in Tijuana since 2015 to help the U.S. government end the deportation of veterans, the ACLU said in a statement.
“We applaud the Biden administration’s commitment to end the unconscionable deportations of America’s veterans and to engage in a meaningful process to bring our banished veterans home,” Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrant rights and attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southeastern California, said in a statement.
Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego Board of Supervisors who served in the military and has been working for the cause for several years, welcomed the move.
“President Biden followed through on his promise to correct our dishonorable immigration practice of deporting veterans; I truly appreciate his commitment to changing this unjust policy,” Fletcher said. “As someone who’s worked on this issue for years, it has always been an uphill battle, but now the road to repatriation is cleared for these heroes.”
NBC 7 spoke with Ramon Castro who served in the Marines and is now the CEO of the American Veterans Homefront Initiative.
"A lot of language in there leaves many loopholes that will allow authorities to keep deporting veterans and not allow many to come back," Castro said. "How about if we say we guarantee citizenship. How about if we guarantee citizenship to veterans who served. And how about we offer pardons to veterans who are deported."
Castro is doing a 2,000 miles march along the border for deported troops. He said he was inspired by some vets he met at the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico.
"Even though these orders came down yesterday we're not going to stop until they come to fruition," Castro said.
While some are celebrating this latest step, veterans like Castro will keep marching, to bring his fellow troops home.