The Worst Homecoming: Deportation of Veterans Born Abroad

Veterans are subject to the same burdens we all risk every day: unemploymenthomelessnesslack of health carepoverty.  When these arise in the veteran community we see the injustice most clearly.  We must add to that list the injustice of veteran deportations.

The military admits non-citizens as enlisted service members.  Citizenship applications of active service members and some veterans may be expedited.  But, amazingly, fighting for the country does not guarantee your right to reside here.  Even if citizenship is granted during service, after discharge the veteran’s citizenship may be revoked if the discharge involved even minor misconduct.  This affects not only service members but also their families.  The government only recently decided that family members of active service members should not be deported while that service member is on active duty.  Even then, the government only grants a “parole.”

This arises from strict rules for “mandatory removal.”  Congress has ordered deportation for anyone that has participated in certain crimes, and forbids immigration courts from considering any factors that might influence how we think about that situation, including prior military service.  This is true both for convictions at trial and for plea bargains that are never seen before a jury of peers.  Deportation is not the punishment, it is what veterans call a “double punishment”:  they are kept in the U.S. to serve out whatever prison time is appropriate for the crime, and then they are told never to return again.  The injustice here is undeniable.

There has been recent attention around the case of Howard Baily, a Jamaican-born longtime US resident and green card holder, a family man, a business owner and a veteran.  He is now prohibited from entering the country he served.  But his case is not that unusual.  Banished Veterans, a support group, estimated that 4,250 veterans have been deported since 1996.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers has said that veteran deportation “is not fair, and it’s not appropriate for who we are as a people.”  He is right.  This is not just about what veterans deserve.  It is also about whether we aspire to fairness in our communities.  This sort of injustice is beneath us.


Bradford Adams, Skadden Fellowship Attorney at Swords to Plowshares
Bradford has previously worked with the Center for Justice and Accountability, Harvard University, and The Human Rights Education Institute for Burma. He served in the United States Army as a Civil Affairs Officer in Afghanistan in 2002 through 2003. He attended Harvard Law School for his Doctor of Law (JD) after earning his BA in International Relations and Affairs at John Hopkins University.


Feature image: Milton Tepeyac from Washington Post