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Cases of Two Brothers Demonstrate Problems With Deportation of Veterans

Veteran deportation lawyer

Help From a Veteran Deportation Lawyer

Many New Yorkers believe that noncitizens who are military veterans automatically are granted U.S. citizenship. However, that is not the case. Citizenship is not automatically conferred, and foreign-born military service members and veterans who are green card holders must go through the naturalization process before they will be granted citizenship status. Since lawful permanent residents can have their status revoked and be deported for committing some relatively minor crimes, many veterans have been deported over the last 25 years. If you have received a notice of removal as a lawful permanent resident who previously served in the military, you should speak with a veteran deportation lawyer at Oltarsh & Associates about your legal options. Two brothers who are veterans fighting deportation were the subject of a recent documentary, ‘American Exile’, that illustrates this problem.

Vietnam Veterans Fighting Deportation

Manuel and Valente Valenzuela honorably served during the Vietnam War but have been fighting removal for years. Valente served in the Army while Manuel served in the Marine Corps. Following the war, both men initially struggled to adjust to civilian life. Both men were convicted of a few misdemeanor offenses immediately after the war. However, they both were able to eventually adjust and lived stable lives with their families for decades.

In 2009, the two men received notices of removal based on the convictions they received during the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. Valente was subsequently sent to Mexico while Manuel has become an activist who focuses on bringing awareness about the plight of veterans who have been deported.

Why Veterans Are Deported

Before 1996, the U.S. generally did not deport veterans. Foreign nationals have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, and the country has generally given noncitizen veterans deference in the past.

However, in 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. This law added to deportable offenses to include minor crimes like shoplifting or marijuana possession. It was also retroactive, meaning that people like the Valenzuela brothers could be deported based on convictions from decades before. Before that, judges had the discretion to consider mitigating factors, including military service and family ties. However, the IIRRA removed the court’s discretion to consider those things when determining whether a veteran should be removed.

Currently, an estimated 65,000 noncitizens serve in the U.S. military. Since the U.S. government does not track the military service records of deportees, it is unknown how many veterans have been deported. Activists say that veterans who are deported are frequently dropped off in border cities in Mexico without money, and many do not speak Spanish. Some U.S. veterans who have been deported become homeless or are targeted by criminal gangs and drug cartels.

Many military service members who are lawful permanent residents wrongly believe that the government will take care of their paperwork for them so that they can become U.S. citizens. However, noncitizen military service members are required to apply for naturalization and go through the naturalization process before they can become citizens. If a service member does not become a citizen, he or she can be deported even though he or she is a lawful permanent resident.

U.s. Takes a New Look at the Deportation of Veterans

President Biden issued an order to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to begin repatriating foreign national veterans who were deported in July 2021. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the department is partnering with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to bring veterans, military service members, and their family members back to the U.S. when they have been unjustly deported.

Manuel Valenzuela’s case was administratively closed, which means that he is currently safe from deportation. However, the government could reopen the case by filing a motion for it to be re-calendared. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to help veterans who have been deported, but it has not yet passed. While the current administration is working to bring back deported veterans, a different administration could reverse course without a change in the immigration law to protect veterans and military service members.

Defending Against Removal

When veterans or military service members receive notices of removal, they need to seek legal help from an experienced New York immigration lawyer. An attorney at Oltarsh & Associates might work to identify any grounds for relief from removal and examine whether or not the removal grounds listed in the notice are proper.

The immigration attorneys at Oltarsh & Associates include former immigration prosecutors and a former immigration law judge. We have helped many people successfully defend against deportation and removal and are prepared to fight for you and your family. If you are dealing with this type of situation, contact Oltarsh & Associates today at (212) 944-9420.

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