Last summer, Customs and Border Patrol stopped a deported Marine Corps veteran on his way to a citizenship interview from entering the U.S. at the San Ysidro, California checkpoint.
Though former Sgt. Roman Sabal’s story was complicated, it inspired Army veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, to propose a bill Thursday that would require CBP to allow deportees to attend appointments at ports of entry, consulates or embassies without having to make their case for “advance parole,” which temporarily suspends deportation proceedings or decisions while an immigrant works their way through the naturalization process.
“Far too many veterans like Roman — who have been cruelly deported by the same nation they sacrificed to defend — are unable to attend their citizenship interviews because of ambiguous federal policies that keep them from re-entering the country,” Duckworth said in a release. “This legislation would help ensure these veterans receive a fair chance at gaining citizenship without unnecessary delays that prevent them from reuniting with their families.”
Dubbed the Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act, the law would require Citizenship and Immigration Services to take biometric information, to naturalization examinations and perform oath ceremonies at ports of entry, consulates or embassies for veterans working toward citizenship.
In Sabal’s case, the Belizean citizen would have been able to do his interview at San Ysidro and return home while he awaited next steps.
Veterans have become a flash point as the Trump administration has tamped down on illegal immigration and undocumented immigrants. Historically, immigrants have been able to earn citizenship through service, but some were not aware of the necessary steps or never completed the process, making them vulnerable to deportation ― especially for immigrant veterans who later committed crimes.
Complicating the issue, the Government Accountability Office found in June, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not been consistently following policy requiring agents to determine whether someone is a veteran and use their service to evaluate whether they should be deported.
Duckworth has introduced three previous bills taking aim at recent immigration policies, including parole in place for troops’ immigrant family members, a path to citizenship for service members and deportation protection for veterans who have committed non-violent crimes.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.