If you thought that you had to be an American citizen to be in the armed forces, you would be wrong. If you thought that being in the armed forces would give you a leg up when it comes to naturalizing as a citizen, you would be wrong. And, if you thought that being a veteran could help protect someone from being deported, you are only partially wrong.
These are extremely common misconceptions and ones that citizens, lawful permanent residents and undocumented immigrants all share. For citizens, these misunderstandings may have very few consequences, but for lawful permanent residents or undocumented immigrants, they could have life-altering effects. Two men who thought that by becoming U.S. Army paratroopers they had also become citizens, were shocked to not only find that they were still citizens of Mexico, but that they would be deported for very minimal crimes.
One of the men said that he thought by taking an oath in front of an American flag that he had become a citizen. Sadly, when he was arrested for allegedly committing check fraud and then arrested again for driving on a suspended license while on bail, he found himself deported to Mexico. Not only was he not convicted of these crimes, but his status as a veteran did little to help prevent his deportation.
After an estimated 12,000 veterans had been deported from the United States, the director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a memorandum that allowed military service to be considered in deportation adjudications. Veteran status does not automatically protect people, however, it is merely one of many considerations that a judge will take into account.
In addition to being separated from friends, family and, potentially the only country an individual can remember, deported veterans are unable to claim any of the veterans benefits promised them under federal law.
Source: Fox News, “US Veterans in Limbo After Being Deported to Mexico,” Oct. 25, 2012
Avoiding misunderstandings and confusion surrounding citizenship law can be difficult, but absolutely necessary to prevent deportation. There is more information about deportation and removal proceedings on our website.