California may Cover Deported Veterans’ Legal Fees to Return to the United States
There is an estimated several thousand veterans expelled from the United States since 1996, when deportation of immigrants with certain convictions became mandatory, with no judicial discretion. For some of these deported veterans, it wasn’t until their deportations, after serving their time in jail or prison, that many of them realized they were not citizens. Now state and federal lawmakers are trying to help them. Last month, the California Assembly approved AB 386, which would direct the state to pay legal fees for certain deported veterans trying to return to the U.S. if they have a California connection, such as having been stationed at a California base, or having children attending school here. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), the bill sponsor, states:
These are people who made a compact with the federal government—they were willing to give their life and fight for their country—and in exchange our military service said ‘you will be granted citizenship.’ And for whatever reason that didn’t happen. To me, whatever crime they committed is irrelevant because we don’t deport people who commit crimes, we deport people who aren’t U.S. citizens.
It’s unknown how much the bill will cost the state, but the bill states that legal aid would be subject to annual funding. Last month, the Legislature sent Governor Jerry Brown a budget that includes $45 million for the legal defense of immigrants facing deportation. Immigrants who serve in the U.S. military are automatically eligible for citizenship, but to gain it they must complete the application process, which some legal permanent residents claim they did not know. Some of the deported veterans mistakenly thought they received citizenship when they enlisted and took their military oaths. Many of the deported veterans are hoping that the bill passes and that they also get federal assistance, because the only other way they will be able to return to the United States is when they are dead, at which point they will be allowed to be buried with military honors in a U.S. cemetery.