For more information on the Veteran Service Recognition Act, please click here to visit "The VSRA" page. For more information on noncitizen service in the military, see below:
Can any noncitizen serve in the U.S. military?
No. Only lawful permanent residents (a.k.a. “green card holders”), U.S. nationals (e.g., citizens of American Samoa and Swains Island), and citizens of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands can enlist in the military. 10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(1).
The Secretary of Defense may authorize the enlistment of other noncitizens if the Secretary determines they possess a critical skill or expertise that is vital to the national interest. Id. at § 504(b)(2). Under this authority, from 2008-2017, the government allowed certain other noncitizens with lawful status to enlist in the military under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (“MAVNI”) program.
Would the VSRA require the government to track and report on the deportation of veterans?
An estimated 5,000 lawful permanent residents enlist in the military each year. An estimated 45,000 noncitizens currently serve in the military.
How many noncitizen soldiers naturalize as U.S. citizens each year?
In 2022, 5,412 servicemembers and veterans were sworn in as U.S. citizens. At its highest point in the past two decades, 9,122 servicemembers and veterans were naturalized in 2010. At its lowest point in the past two decades, 2,588 servicemembers and veterans were naturalized in 2020.
Why are noncitizen soldiers valuable to the United States?
Foreign-born soldiers have served the United States since the founding of the Republic. Their dedication to the military and to the country is exceptional by many measures. Studies show that immigrants join the military out of patriotism, as a way of paying back the nation, and for a sense of belonging—including by becoming U.S. citizens.
Noncitizen soldiers have a track record of excellent service: They drop out of the military at nearly half the rate of U.S. citizens when their service reaches four years. They tend to have higher academic qualifications and perform better than citizens on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Tellingly, 20 percent of all individuals awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor are immigrants—even though noncitizen servicemembers make up about 4 percent of the military.
Military experts say the United States needs noncitizen soldiers now more than ever. The U.S. military is facing the worst recruitment crisis in 25 years. The Army and Air Force have shortfalls of 10,000 individuals each, and the Navy 6,000 individuals. With at least 5,000 noncitizens joining each year, noncitizens are a critical component of the military.
How many U.S. veterans have been deported?
No government agency has recorded or tracked the number of veterans placed in removal proceedings and deported; therefore, there are no concrete statistics on the numbers of U.S. veterans who have been deported. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 based on informal networks of deported veterans around the world, which have identified hundreds of deported veterans.
Wait. Did you say, “Deported Veterans”?
Yes. The words “deported” and “veteran” should not go together. Unfortunately, over the past 30 years alone, an untold number of U.S. veterans (estimated at more than 1,000) have been deported to their countries of origin all over the world.
Most of these veterans came to the United States as lawful permanent residents as young children, and many come from military families. For most, their family members are U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who remain in the United States. When veterans are deported, they are often permanently separated from their families, communities, and the only country they know.
Why have U.S. veterans been deported?
Veterans are deported for two main reasons.
1. Though a faster path to citizenship is a key promise made by military recruiters, many service members were unable to naturalize while in the military—due to misinformation and bureaucratic hurdles. such as no process for fingerprinting servicemembers that are deployed.
2. Noncitizen veterans face the same struggles all veterans face when returning to civilian life. Many veterans suffer from untreated PTSD and experiences in combat zones that have a lasting effects on them. Unfortunately, an estimated one in three veterans have been arrested or jailed at least once. After they serve their sentences, veterans who are non-citizens face deportation and a life-long bar to naturalizing..
Over thirty types of criminal convictions, including misdemeanors and non-violent crimes like fraud, and failure to appear in court, can subject a lawful permanent resident to mandatory deportation. This means that immigration judges must deport them, even if they lived in the United States since they were children, have no ties to their birth country, and served in the U.S. military.
Like citizen veterans and anyone else, noncitizen veterans served their sentences. Like all other veterans, they deserve the chance to rehabilitate and rebuild their lives–together with their families and communities–rather than be banished from them.
Will the VSRA also help noncitizen spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizen servicemembers, and veterans to regularize their immigration status?
Yes. The VSRA would eliminate specific legal barriers to adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence for the spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizen servicemembers and veterans who serve a minimum of 2 years on active duty or in a reserve component and, if discharged, are discharged under honorable conditions.
Over thirty types of criminal convictions, including misdemeanors and non-violent crimes like fraud, drug offenses, and failure to appear in court, can subject a lawful permanent resident to mandatory deportation. This means that immigration judges must deport them, even if they lived in the United States since they were children, have no ties to their birth country, and served in the U.S. military, with no right to return.
Most deported veterans were deported for drug-related offenses. Like citizen veterans and anyone else, noncitizen veterans served their sentences. Because they were not given the opportunity to naturalize, however, noncitizen veterans were then deported and banished forever from their families and the country they served.
Are veterans more likely than civilians to have contact with the criminal legal system?
Yes. Studies show that veterans are more likely than civilians to be arrested. One report from the Council on Criminal Justice in 2022, found that one third of veterans report having been arrested and booked into jail at least once, compared to fewer than one fifth of civilians. An estimated 8% of those incarcerated in state prisons are veterans.