REPORT: Land of The Free, No Home to the Brave
A Report on the Social, Economic, and Moral Cost of Deporting Veterans
By Emma Hilbert, Staff Attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project
When Efrain Peralta joined the military upon graduating from high school, he never would have thought that the country he loved and pledged to defend would one day deport him. Peralta had entered the service with hopes of having a full-length military career, and proudly served for five years before he left for his home in Texas to care for his ailing father. When charged with drug possession shortly after his father’s passing, he was convicted, sentenced to prison, and deported to Mexico, where he lives today.
Unfortunately, Peralta’s story is not unique. Like Peralta, veterans who are not U.S. citizens and commit certain crimes face not only incarceration in but also potential deportation from the country they served. In contrast to their U.S. citizen counterparts, who may face jail or prison time for the same crimes, noncitizen veterans face the possibility of being expelled from the U.S. Notably, if tragically, these veterans often face deportation not for violent or dangerous crimes, but for drug or alcohol-related offenses, crimes which often even stem in some way from their military service.
At the same time, immigration law allows noncitizen servicemembers the opportunity to gain U.S. citizenship through military service. Yet, for reasons described in this report, many noncitizen veterans fail to naturalize, and as a consequence, often also face deportation or removal. While veteran status can offer a pathway to citizenship for some, veteran status by itself does not insulate a person from deportation by an immigration judge.
The criminal justice and immigration systems thus combine to discriminate against noncitizen veterans, by subjecting them to disparate treatment compared to their citizen counterparts. Noncitizen veterans are “punished twice”—once when they are incarcerated, and once when they are deported; U.S. citizen veterans face only half these consequences for committing the same crimes.
This institutional discrimination carries special significance in Texas, home to both the second-highest number of noncitizen individuals and the second-highest number of veterans in the nation. San Antonio, Texas, proudly bears the name “Military City, U.S.A.” All in all, Texas—more than every state but one—has a high number of noncitizen individuals and a high number of veterans. It is therefore also home to a high number of noncitizen veterans, and many of them have and will continue to face removal from the country they served.
Additionally, this discrimination is all the more important today than in years past. Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. has been in a period of hostility, making it the longest-running conflict in the country’s history. As such, the military requires a steady stream of new servicemembers, and in particular has recruited for and relied upon the medical, lingual, and cultural skills of noncitizen recruits. Discriminatory laws and policies that lead to veteran deportations, therefore, risk not only an individual veteran’s ability to stay in the country he or she served, but also even the very strength of the U.S. military itself. Our veterans deserve better, as does our country.
This report analyzes the legal implications and human impact of placing veterans in so-called removal proceedings, the process under immigration law to deport or otherwise expel a person from this country. As the report shows, deporting noncitizen veterans harms not only the individual veterans put into these proceedings, but also the Texas communities in which they live, creating a social, economic, and moral disservice to both the veterans who served this country and the nation itself. Specifically, institutional discrimination against noncitizen veterans:
- Fails to fully respect noncitizen veterans’ basic civil and human rights;
- Fails to either reduce crime or enhance safety and security; and
- Wastes taxpayer money and harms the economy.
This report makes recommendations for addressing these important issues.