By Eskinder Negash
USCRI President and CEO
“We should make special provision for the absorption of many thousands of persons who are refugees without a country as a result of political upheavals and their flight from persecution.” President Dwight Eisenhower to the Congress on Immigration, March 17, 1960
On this Veterans Day, a day commemorating the service of all our veterans, let us not forget America’s immigrants and refugees who have honorably served and sacrificed for a country before it was fully theirs. Today there are over half a million veterans who were born outside of the United States and almost two million veterans who are the children of immigrants. This is not new. Throughout American history, immigrants have served on the battlefield and have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve America’s values, defending freedom and institutions before their belonging became official.
What does it take for someone to pick up arms and defend a country that is not yet theirs?
It certainly takes faith—faith in the American ideals of justice, equality and liberty. It takes hope—hope that America will honor its promise to its immigrant veterans that our gratitude for their service will offer them a pathway to citizenship. And it takes courage—the courage all veterans carry with them each time they put on their uniform.
Today, veterans who are not yet U.S. citizens, even if they hold green cards, face more battles once they leave the service. Non-citizens in the military are denied citizenship more often than their civilian counterparts. Before 2016, military citizenship application acceptances were higher than applications from civilians. During that time, citizenship applications from service members were expedited, not rejected.
Veterans holding green cards are increasingly being deported from the U.S Many of these veterans were recruited into the military under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which was suspended in late 2016. This program targeted legal non-immigrants (not green card holders) with specialized skills, such as health professionals, to serve in the military and receive fast-tracked naturalization. Now, they are subject to deportation in some cases.
This Veterans Day, while honoring all of those who have bravely served this country, let us remind our representatives in Congress of the many sacrifices made by our non-citizen veterans.
Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, herself a veteran, has proposed a series of three bills that would prohibit the deportation of and provide benefits for immigrant veterans. These bills include the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, the Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile (HOPE) Act, and the Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS).
It is right and just to grant citizenship to those who have risked their lives to defend our time-honored American values.
Join us as we recognize and honor the courage and sacrifice of all the men and women, currently serving and those who have served, many of whom are immigrants, who chose to defend our nation. We especially remember the legacy of all the service members we have lost. We thank veterans across the country and honor their unique gifts and histories that together make the mosaic of America.