Since 2013, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been approaching the deportation of noncitizen much more aggressively than it has in previous years. Many of those noncitizen are veterans of US military service.
How many, the federal government may have no idea.
According to the ICE’s own figures, the proportion of removals resulting from ICE arrests out of the total removed by administrative arrests increased from 65,332, or 27 percent of total removals in 2016 to 81,603, or 36 percent of total removals in 2017, when deportations hit an all-time high.
A report released by the Government Accountability Office on Thursday, June 6, concluded that detailed record keeping has not followed the increase in activity, however.
“ICE has developed policies for handling cases of noncitizen veterans who may be subject to removal from the United States, but does not consistently adhere to those policies, and does not consistently identify and track such veterans,” the report states. “Additionally, ICE has not developed a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters during interviews, and in cases when agents and officers do learn they have encountered a veteran, ICE does not maintain complete electronic data,” it reads. “Therefore, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans’ cases.”
ICE agents and officers are required to take further steps in an arrest when a veteran is involved, before that individual is removed from the country.
Follow us on Instagram
Get deals on patriotic items from The Veterans Site store each week!
“Because ICE did not consistently follow these policies, some veterans who were removed may not have received the level of review and approval that ICE has determined is appropriate for cases involving veterans,” the report states.
California Rep. Mark Tanako followed the report up with a letter to ICE Director Mark Morgan, CNN reports.
“I was deeply alarmed by the findings in the report that show not only are we unable to fully quantify how many of these men and women are being deported, but that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has certain policies already in place to which it consistently fails to adhere,” he wrote.
A response from an ICE spokesperson maintains the department, “respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service, and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving veterans… Any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an individual with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel.”
“ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion for members of the armed forces who have honorably served our country on a case-by-case basis when appropriate,” the statement continues. “ICE specifically identifies service in the US military as a positive factor that should be considered along with other factors in the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised.”
Since 2013, more than 44,000 noncitizens have enlisted in the military, according to Department of Defense data. The GAO report indicates that ICE has placed 250 veterans in deportation proceedings over the last five years. That number may be significantly less than the actual total, as veterans are not being tracked consistently in the ICE database.
“None of the three ICE components who encounter veterans … maintain complete electronic data on the veterans they identify,” the report states.
According to NBC, “of the nearly 90 veterans who were deported from 2013 to 2018, agents failed to get the required management approval in 21 percent of their cases and failed to elevate cases to headquarters for 70 percent of those that required it.”
ICE policy mandates that agents and officers “mandatorily detain and process for removal individuals who have been convicted of aggravated felonies as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act.” That policy applies to veterans and nonveterans alike.
“In 100 percent of the veteran case files GAO reviewed, the individuals were placed into removal proceedings because of felony convictions related to drugs; sexual abuse, of which 18 involved minors; firearms, explosives, or explosive material; kidnapping; terrorist threats; and other crimes,” the ICE statement reads.
The GAO report points out that current ICE policies date back as far as 2004, are do not provide agents and officers enough information on how to properly handle each case.
“Without developing and implementing a new policy or revising its 2004 and 2015 policies to require agents and officers to ask about and document veteran status, ICE has no way of knowing whether it has identified all of the veterans it has encountered,” the report states.
Rep. Tanako, and others, would like to see those policies updated.
“We cannot allow noncitizen veterans to fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system,” he said.
Learn more about America’s deported veterans in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.