Legislation Introduced to Assist Veterans Through Immigration System
Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reintroduced a package of veterans’ bills on Thursday, April 4, 2019, that would improve access to health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as prohibit the deportation of veterans who are not violent offenders, and provide legal permanent residents a path to citizenship through their military service. The three bills are the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, the Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile (HOPE) Act, and the Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS) Act.
“When immigrants step up to serve our country, it is unacceptable to deny them the very same rights and opportunities they risk their lives defending,” Sen. Hirono said. “We must appropriately recognize these veterans, and that starts with protecting their access to care and their right to remain in their communities. The Veterans Visa and Protection Act, the HOPE Act, and the I-VETS Act would help veterans seek legal permanent residency and citizenship. It would also ensure all veterans can access medical care for service-connected medical conditions.”
“Men and women willing to wear our uniform shouldn’t be deported by the same nation they risked their lives to defend,” Sen. Duckworth said. “These pieces of legislation will help Servicemembers become citizens and help Veterans like Miguel who have been deported return to this country, enabling them to live here with their families and ensuring they can access the life-saving VA care they earned through their tremendous sacrifices.”
“No one who serves our nation in uniform, volunteering to die for it, should be forced to leave it,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “Providing a path to earned citizenship and basic health care mean keeping faith with veterans.”
“We cannot turn our backs on the brave people who came to America and put their lives on the line to defend our country,” Sen. Wyden said. “The United States should honor those sacrifices by providing veterans and servicemembers a path to permanently stay in the nation they proudly served and now call home.”
Sens. Hirono, Duckworth, Blumenthal, and Wyden reintroduced the following three measures:
- The Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019 would prohibit the deportation of veterans who are not violent offenders, establish a visa program through which deported veterans may enter the United States as legal permanent residents, enable legal permanent residents to become naturalized citizens through military service, and extend military and veterans benefits to those who would be eligible for those benefits if they were not deported.
- The Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile (HOPE) Act of 2019 would allow deported veterans who committed nonviolent crimes the opportunity to temporarily re-enter the United States to receive medical care from a VA facility for service-connected medical conditions.
- The Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS) Act of 2019 would identify noncitizens who are currently serving or who have served in the armed forces when they are applying for immigration benefits or when placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to annotate all immigration and naturalization records to reflect their service records. This information will enable DHS to “fast track” veterans and servicemembers who are applying for naturalization while also allowing officials to practice prosecutorial discretion, if appropriate, when adjudicating their cases.
While the exact number is unknown, it estimated that hundreds of noncitizen veterans have been deported from the United States in recent years. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to expand the grounds for deportation, which has resulted in an increase in deported veterans. While most deported veterans were eligible for naturalization when they were in the military, the U.S. government failed to prioritize assisting noncitizen servicemembers with completing the naturalization process. The failure to process their paperwork led to several veterans who thought they were citizens becoming vulnerable to deportation proceedings.
Deported veterans are unable to access the VA benefits they have earned and would otherwise be eligible to receive if they were still living in the United States. For many of these veterans, deportation acts as a barrier that prevents them from receiving basic medical care.
Sen. Hirono, a member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, cosponsored all three bills in the 115th Congress. Last week during a committee hearing, Sen. Hirono pressed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to approve the pending lease for the Advanced Leeward Outpatient Healthcare Access (ALOHA) Project, which would almost double the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System’s capacity, increase access for veterans in Leeward O‘ahu and for veterans traveling from the Neighbor Islands, and reduce veteran traffic at the co-located Tripler Army Medical Center.