ICYMI: Hearing Underscores Urgent Need to Protect Immigrant Veterans and Military Families

We wanted to make sure you’d seen that yesterday, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, held a hearing calling for urgently needed protections for immigrant veterans and their family members, including protections from deportation and a pathway to citizenship.

The hearing highlighted the devastating impact of deportation on military servicemembers and their families, and included a powerful testimony from deported U.S. veteran Howard Bailey. Howard shared his story remotely from Jamaica, and spoke of his ongoing efforts to come home and reunite with his family, which continue today, ten years after his deportation. Howard served nearly four years in the U.S. Navy and received the National Defense Service Medal. Despite his contributions and sacrifice, he was deported after being convicted of a first-time marijuana offense, and has been forced ever since to deal with the devastating consequences of being separated from his family.

Howard is among the hundreds of thousands of individuals in military families who are impacted by our nation’s failed immigration system. According to FWD.us, approximately 700,000 foreign-born veterans – many of whom are now U.S. citizens – live in the U.S. today. Among those veterans, there are about 45,000 immigrants who are actively serving. However, naturalizations of servicemembers have decreased significantly in recent years, which only increases the risks that some servicemembers may later be deported, regardless of their veteran status.

Just one month ago, we celebrated the reunification of Alejandra Juarez and her family. Alejandra, a mother to two U.S.-citizen daughters and the wife of a U.S. military veteran, was reunited with her family after having been deported under the Trump Administration in 2018. In an interview with MSNBC, Alejandra made clear the pain she endured of being separated from her loved ones, and called on Congress to act with urgency to prevent more family separations.

Millions of American families live under constant threat of being separated like Howard’s and Alejandra’s – and this threat will continue until Congress acts to protect those who have risked their lives to serve this country. Congress should increase the number of military naturalizations, and provide a pathway to citizenship that honors and reflects their dedicated service. Immigrants play a critical role in U.S. military service, and we must ensure that our immigration laws reflect this dedication and sacrifice.

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