Immigration

ICE Failed to Properly Screen Veterans Before Deporting Them

ICE agents told investigators they were "unaware" of policies to avoid deporting veterans—the same policies the agency assured me it was following in 2016.

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America's immigration enforcement agency respects the troops, except when it forgets and deports them improperly.

According to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents regularly failed to follow procedures when deciding whether to deport former military service members. All veteran cases are supposed to get bumped up to a senior official for review, for example, but the agency didn't bother to do this in 70 percent of the relevant cases that the GAO reviewed.

ICE's criminal investigators told the GAO they were "unaware" of the policies. If true, ICE must have developed a bad case of amnesia sometime after 2016, when an agency spokesperson assured me that it "respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving veterans."

In 2016, I reported on deported U.S. military veterans living in Tijuana. Although the Trump administration's restrictions have led to a steep decline, noncitizens have traditionally been able to enlist in the U.S. military, and more than 100,000 lawful permanent residents—commonly called green card holders—have served since 2001.

But they can still be kicked out of the country if they later commit a deportable offense. They then face challenges getting medical care and other benefits they are supposedly guaranteed, the GAO found. (In a morbid bureaucratic twist, deported veterans are still eligible for burial on U.S. soil with full military honors. So basically, they're barred from reentering the country unless they're dead.)

According to its own policies, ICE is supposed to consider military service in deportation cases and elevate those cases to senior officials. In 2016, an ICE spokesperson told me that the agency "respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving veterans.

"Any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an alien with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel," the spokesperson said. "ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis, when appropriate, for members of the armed forces who have honorably served our country. ICE specifically identifies service in the U.S. military as a positive factor that should be considered when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised."

Yet ICE's investigative branch told the GAO that it was "unaware of the policies" prior to the GAO review, and that its agents "do not distinguish between veterans and nonveterans when conducting administrative or criminal investigations or when deciding whether to [initiate removal proceedings]."

I asked ICE to comment on the GAO report, noting the logical gap between what ICE told me what it told GAO investigators. An agency spokesperson replied that the agency stands by its statement. Rest assured, gentle reader, that ICE still insists it "respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving veterans."

The spokesperson also says that ICE's investigative team is required by law to detain and process for removal those who commit deportable crimes, and in all of the cases the GAO reviewed, "the individuals were placed into removal proceedings because of felony convictions related to drugs; sexual abuse, of which 18 involved minors; firearms, explosives, or explosive material; kidnapping; terrorist threats; and other crimes."

The spokesperson noted that detainees still receive additional review during immigration removal proceedings, and ICE has pledged to update its training in response to the GAO report.

Yet Hector Barajas—a former Army paratrooper who started a support group for veterans in Tijuana after finding dozens, like himself, who had been deported—tells The Washington Post he only saw ICE exercise its prosecutorial discretion in one single case.

No one knows just how many veterans have been deported. The government doesn't track such cases, although that's one of the GAO's recommendations.

"Deporting veterans represents a failure by our government that could have been prevented if ICE officials had been adhering to agency policies," House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D–Calif.) writes in a letter to Acting ICE Director Mark Morgan. "This level of carelessness and disregard for official procedures is negligent and unacceptable."

Another Army and National Guard veteran I interviewed, Clayton Gordon, was arrested by ICE agents in 2013, three years after he successfully completed probation for cocaine possession. ICE detained Gordon for five months without a bail hearing, a practice a federal appeals court declared unconstitutional. Gordon then fought a five-year legal battle before a judge finally ruled last December that he could stay in the U.S.

"I still feel proud," Gordon told me in 2016, while his removal case was still pending. "I still have a flag in my yard. I don't care. It's a stupid law. It's just a thing that happens. In 1996 this wasn't happening. Wrong place, wrong time, I guess, but regardless I still love America. If they asked me [to enlist] again, I'd go again."

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  1. Another reason to get rid of ICE.

    OT: A back-and-forth on Twitter between Cathy Reisenwitz and Cathy Young regarding child drag queens. Link here: https://twitter.com/CathyYoung63/status/1137982045265780738.

  2. It’s all political. Don’t you wanna watch the live coverage of this kind of news for free on Thop Tv Fun for free which is also resourced with unlimited movies and live shows.

  3. Confused about this article. According to the GAO report, these people that are being removed are being removed for (potentially) fairly bad crimes: “the individuals were placed into removal proceedings because of felony convictions related to drugs; sexual abuse, of which 18 involved minors; firearms, explosives, or explosive material; kidnapping; terrorist threats; and other crimes.” Now the big question there is whether 99% of the removal cases were because of drugs and the rest are outliers…but if its the case the minority fall in the non-drug category…what is really the issue here? Veteran status should not trump sexual abuse convictions, kidnapping, etc.

    1. Exactly what I was gonna say. If we’re booting out good guys because they got caught with some weed, that’s BS. But if we’re booting out guys who may have shot some Iraqi’s for the empire, but got home and robbed some liquor stores and raped some chicks… They can GTFO.

      1. If they committed violent felonies, send them to prison for it. DON’T deport them so they can sneak across the border again in a few weeks.

  4. I’ve always been a fan of the Roman method: Military service grants citizenship upon honorable discharge. Period.

    As for their crimes, punish them the way we punish any other US citizen

    1. The Romans discharged soldiers after 20 years of service when they were no longer fit to be solders. Even then they pensioned them by providing them with land located along hostile borders where they would serve as a kind of armed tripwire against outside raiders.

  5. ‘”I still feel proud,” Gordon told me in 2016, while his removal case was still pending. “I still have a flag in my yard. I don’t care. It’s a stupid law. It’s just a thing that happens. In 1996 this wasn’t happening. Wrong place, wrong time, I guess, but regardless I still love America. If they asked me [to enlist] again, I’d go again.”‘

    Ponder.

    1. He should know to follow the rules and applied for citizenship when he had the chance.

  6. Fighting for the American Way of Life is no excuse! If we let some Veteran stay, then what’s next? It might be an entrepreneur or engineer! Zero tolerance! Zero tolerance!

    1. I dare you to find me anybody who is against people who properly applied to immigrate here, and then served in the military or who are engineers living here… It’s the illegal immigrants who dropped out of 5th grade and are barely literate in their own native language, let alone English, that people are against. We don’t need more dish washers.

  7. […] {excerpt:n} ICE Failed to Properly Screen Veterans Before Deporting Them  Reason […]

  8. ICE’s criminal investigators told the GAO they were “unaware” of the policies.

    This is a government operation, after all. You can’t expect the professionals carrying it out to understand the intricacies of what governs their authority.

  9. I don’t want to try to justify deporting honorably discharged veterans for bullshit marijuana possession charges or anything like that.
    But the ICE stated policy in 2016, and the GAO report aren’t mutually exclusive. The policy is that actions on veterans that may lead to removal require authorization by senior leadership. That would sound to me like the agents do the investigation, and then initiate deportation proceedings. Then senior leadership would authorize the use of deportation. The policy didn’t sound like veteran status was a “screening out” criteria for the investigation. But a factor to be used when deportation proceedings are imminent.
    And I agree with a different commenter, if the majority of the vets deported were for drugs, then this is seriously fucked up. If however, the majority are for true crimes then it doesn’t matter if they served honorably, serious felonies are ALWAYS grounds for aliens to be deported.

  10. For some immigrant-bashing, authoritarian slack-jaws, bigotry appears to be the prime directive.

  11. Priceless! You can’t make up stuff like this. Just getting the word out ought to convince many foreigners they may be better off NOT sneaking into the nuthouse.

  12. These non-Americans join the US military and should know the procedures for becoming US citizens, since their military service gives them a leg up on approval.

    Like a lot of non-Americans who thought they could live in the USA without applying for citizenship. Those days are over.

    How many Mexicans in the US Military were literally building the border wall by adding fence? That and Mexicans paying for the wall by paying more in US taxes than they receive.

    1. From personal experience, I can tell you that the personnel department folks do their best to speed legal residents who join the military through the citizenship process as quickly as possible.

      We even had citizenship ceremonies in Iraq during combat operations just for this reason.

      So, if someone doesn’t have citizenship by the time they finish their first enlistment it means something was going on.

      I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who served and got deported over smoking a joint at a Vince Vaughn comedy show. However, the only cases I’m aware of were for some pretty serious crimes. And it usually wasn’t just for drugs unless those drug charges involved distribution (i.e. the guy was trying to make money at it).

  13. I just got another batch of illegals deported in Georgia.

    See ya!

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