Veterans Deported Despite Years of Service in Los Angeles

Dedicated Los Angeles Immigration Law Firm Available to Help Immigrants Facing Deportation

Those whose family or friends have served as soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines have seen or have heard of the elaborate graduation ceremonies whereat new recruits are welcomed and identified as members of that particular branch. Since the late 2000s, these graduation ceremonies have also included naturalization ceremonies for those recruits that were undocumented immigrants and did not have any legal status to be in the United States. Citizenship was conferred as a type of benefit for these undocumented immigrants, who were required to then serve the United States for a certain number of years.

However, the Los Angeles Times recently reported on the story of Navy veteran Juan Valadez and others like him who served between the end of the Vietnam War and 2009. During this period of time, there was no naturalization ceremonies or other benefits immediately conferred upon new recruits who graduated boot camp. This means that undocumented immigrants who served during this approximately 40-year time frame, receiving citizenship was not automatic and their ability to remain in the United States after their enlistment contracts had expired was dependent upon their good behavior. When Mr. Valadez was convicted of a drug-related felony, he found himself deported from the United States.  He is not alone.

How and Why America’s Veterans are Being Deported

One would think that legal status would be a reasonable and appropriate “benefit” for an undocumented immigrant who has served honorably in the U.S. military. In fact, it has been common for most of the United States’ military’s history to confer citizenship upon those who serve honorably but who are not citizens or lawful permanent residents upon graduation of boot camp. During a brief period when the military branches did away with naturalization ceremonies at boot camp graduation, however, it fell to the individual service member to apply for citizenship. Those military members that failed to do so were not automatically given any legal status. When they were convicted of crimes or other unlawful acts (such as Mr. Valadez), they were deported as any other undocumented immigrant would be and would need to reapply for permission to reenter the United States. In some cases, the only method whereby a veteran in such a predicament could reenter the United States would be after the veteran had died: the deceased veteran would be readmitted into the United States for burial purposes, if the veteran’s family so desired.

Even upon graduating boot camp and completing the terms of the enlistment contract, the citizenship was “conditional” upon the person having accumulated a certain number of years of honorable service prior to an “other than honorable” discharge or being granted an honorable discharge.

What Can Be Done to Help America’s Veterans?

Under current immigration laws, current members of the armed forces as well as veterans of the military may be eligible to apply for citizenship if certain minimal requirements are met. These applications are processed on an expedited basis (at least according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). To be eligible for naturalization while a member of the armed forces, the person must:

  • Be of good moral character;
  • Have a knowledge of the English language;
  • Have a knowledge of U.S. government and history; and
  • Demonstrate an attachment to the United States by taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

If the person is applying for naturalization after having already been separated from the service, the person must additionally:

  • Have served honorably in the U.S. military for one year or longer;
  • Have obtained lawful permanent residence status; and
  • Filed an application within six months of having separated from the service. (However, an executive order signed in 2002 allows certain noncitizen veterans of certain past conflicts, as well as those who served on or after September 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship).

Seek Help from an Immigration Attorney

The laws pertaining to naturalization of noncitizen service members and veterans in Los Angeles can be complex and confusing. The Goldstein Immigration Lawyers is here to help you make sense of these challenging laws and regulations. Whether you are a current member of the military or separated from the service years ago, we can advise you whether you qualify for naturalization and, if so, can help you complete the process. Contact us for assistance today.