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Today, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and several other House Democrats introduced the “Veteran Visa and Protection Act,” which would establish a visa program allowing certain deported veterans to re-enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. They will also be eligible for the existing naturalization process for military service and will regain access to their military and veteran benefits. The bill will also stop the deportation of eligible veterans who are currently in removal proceedings.

“The thought that people who have sacrificed so much for our nation’s defense and safety are kicked out with such disregard is utterly appalling,” Rep. Grijalva said. “When someone is willing to lay down their life for the country they love, what more could we want in a fellow citizen? Many of these deportations result from minor drug-related offenses; instead of providing our veterans with the help they desperately need, we kick them out. My bill is about ensuring every single veteran, regardless of where they were born, is treated with the same deference and respect that they all earned through their service in uniform.”

According to the Immigrant Defense Project, one out of every four “criminal removals,” over 250,000 deportations, involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense. Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report on drug deportations, noting that “Thousands of families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.” And last week, the ACLU released a report noting that veterans who have served the country as lawful permanent residents have been “subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.”

“We know that the war on drugs has been a war on immigrants,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Marijuana is legal in four states and the nation’s capital. Republicans and Democrats alike see the need to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses. So it is especially cruel to deport tens of thousands of people, some of whose most serious offense related to a small amount of marijuana.”

Immigrants have served in the U.S. military since its inception, and 2008 Department of Defense figures reported that 65,000 lawful permanent residents were serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Grijalva bill would allow those deported for nonviolent offenses to apply for re-entry, and would stop deportation proceedings for vets who had committed a nonviolent offense. Many of the vets impacted by this bill will be those found guilty of drug-related offenses.

Date Published: July 14, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance