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Military matters and illegal immigration.
Both are hot-button issues for voters in the 2020 presidential election, though for different reasons.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic presidential hopeful and major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, linked them when she spoke July 11, 2019 at the League of United Latin American Citizens convention in Milwaukee.
LULAC is the nation’s oldest Hispanic civil rights organization. Gabbard was one of several Democratic presidential contenders who attended.
Meanwhile, President DonaldTrump visited Derco Aerospace on Milwaukee's northwest side on July 12, 2019 -- a day after Gabbard spoke to a group of veterans at a LULAC breakfast.
In her speech, Gabbard said Trump "pays a lot of lip service to our veterans, to our troops," but "at the very same time he is deporting service members who have volunteered to serve this country."
Let’s take a look at whether Trump "is deporting service members who have volunteered to serve this country."
Government Accountability Office
PolitiFact Wisconsin’s attempts to reach Gabbard’s campaign and Washington, D.C., staff were unsuccessful, so let’s take a look at available data.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, between fiscal years 2013 and 2018, more than 44,000 noncitizens enlisted in the military.
Many of those service members are entitled to apply for American citizenship, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, people born in other countries can gain U.S. citizenship through military service.
According to the AllLaw.com website, sometimes they can do this without going through the preliminary step of getting a U.S. green card (lawful permanent resident). The exact legal requirements depend on whether the person served during peace or war time.
However, a June 2019 GAO report noted that the federal government had fallen short in efforts to guide immigrants serving in the U.S. military through the process to become naturalized citizens.
Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, can deport veterans who have not obtained citizenship and are in violation of immigration laws or who commit certain crimes.
"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) 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 GAO report states.
A June 7, 2019 news report from NPR summarized it this way:
Hundreds of noncitizen veterans were placed in removal proceedings during the past six years despite policies to consider their service in deportation cases and to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants serving in the U.S. military.
Of the 250 veterans facing deportation, 92 were removed from the country, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office released Thursday. Nine of the deported veterans had service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Eighty-five percent of the deported veterans were legal permanent residents. And 26 of them tried to become citizens, according to the GAO report.
Notably, the GAO report covers a period of six years, meaning the issue began before Trump took office after the 2016 election.
In addition to noncitizen service members facing deportation, family members of those who have served are subject to deportation.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., along with other Senate Democrats, wrote a letter on July 10, 2019 demanding the Trump administration reverse course on ending the "Parole in Place" program, which prevents immigrants who are spouses, parents and children of active-duty service members and veterans from being deported.
According to Duckworth, although the exact number is unknown, hundreds of non-citizen veterans are estimated to have been deported from the United States in recent years.
She cited a 2017 executive order from Trump expanding the grounds for deportation as a possible cause for any increase.
That executive order focused mainly on plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico and to hold back money from "sanctuary cities." But it included an expanded definition of who is classified as a criminal, and therefore a priority subject for deportation.
The order includes anyone who has crossed the border illegally — which is a criminal misdemeanor. Anyone who has abused any public benefits program is also considered a criminal under the expansion order.
Thousands of veterans deported
In February 2018, the Texas Civil Rights Project released a report, "Land of the Free, no Home to the Brave: A report on the social, economic and moral cost of deporting veterans." The group is an Austin-based non-profit organization that focuses on social justice issues.
The report stated that "While the U.S. government does not track veteran status of the people it deports, estimates suggest some 3,000 veterans have been deported over the years."
Earlier, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had cited a 3,000-veteran estimate in calling for an end to the deportation of military veterans.
"We are aware of deported veterans that have served as recently as the war in Afghanistan, to veterans that served in the Iraq and Vietnam wars," the Hispanic caucus sent in a 2017 letter sent to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
Indeed, according to a Jan 12, 2018 article from Stars and Stripes, the VA established a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2017 "to provide services to deported veterans, giving exams to determine whether deported veterans have injuries or illnesses connected to their military service. If they do, they could become eligible for government-paid health care and monthly paychecks from the VA."
The clinic itself underlines the key point of Gabbard’s claim: That veterans have been deported.
Gabbard said at the same time Trump talks about supporting veterans, "he is deporting service members who have volunteered to serve this country."
The Trump administration expanded the grounds under which people, including veterans, can be deported, which some blame for more veterans being forced to leave the country. That said, GAO documents make clear the issue existed before Trump took office -- something that wasn’t acknowledged in Gabbard’s claim.
Our definition for Mostly True is "the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information." That fits here.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "LULAC national convention brings Democratic presidential contenders to Milwaukee," July 11, 2019.
U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Immigration enforcement: action needed to better handle, identify and track cases involving veterans," June 2019.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, letter to Homeland Security and Department of Defense officials, July 10, 2019
Facebook, "Deported Veterans Support House."
Stars and Stripes "VA establishes exam site for deported vets in Tijuana," Jan. 12, 2018.
ACLU "Discharged, Then Discarded," July 6, 2016
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "President Trump in Milwaukee says farmers are ‘over the hump’ as dairy farms continue to close in Wisconsin," July 12, 2019.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services "Naturalization through Military Service."
AllLaw.com "How to get U.S. Citizenship through Military Service."
National Public Radio, "Report: U.S. agencies didn’t follow policies to assist immigrant soldiers," June 7, 2019.
Texas Civil Rights Project "Land of the Free, no Home to the Brave: A report on the social, economic and moral cost of deporting veterans,"Feb. 2018.
News release "Rep. Takano, Congressional Hispanic Caucus applaud progress in restoring benefits to deported veterans," Jan. 10, 2018.
Newsmax "Hispanic Caucus concerned about U.S. vets being deported," June 21, 2017.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, "One year after Trump administration deported Illinois veteran, Duckworth re-introduces comprehensive bill package to protect veterans and service members from unfair treatment, April 4, 2019
The White House "Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements," Jan. 25, 2017.
The New York Times, "Trump’s immigration order expands the definition of ‘criminal,’ Jan. 26, 2017.
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