McGovern, Vargas, Salazar, Gonzalez, Jackson Lee, Swalwell Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Deported Veterans Gain Citizenship

WASHINGTON - Despite enlisting in our military and serving our country under the promise of gaining citizenship, many veterans that were honorably discharged have faced deportation and even been prevented from attending their own naturalization hearings. To help address this, U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern (MA-02), Juan Vargas (CA-52), María Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-34), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Eric Swalwell (CA-14) reintroduced the Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act to help ensure deported veterans who have successfully completed the preliminary naturalization process can attend their citizenship interview at a port of entry, embassy or consulate without navigating the complex process of parole. Companion legislation is led in the Senate by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

“It’s an absurd injustice to tell veterans who served America with honor that they aren’t welcome in the country they put their lives on the line to defend,” said Congressman McGovern. “Deported veterans deserve to come home—and our bill will ensure that after they can move their way through the citizenship process without unnecessary obstruction or delay.”

“Many of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation and our freedoms are immigrants. It’s disgraceful that too many of these veterans are unable to return to their families and the country they served,” said Rep. Juan Vargas. “It’s past time for us to right this wrong. Deported veterans deserve to come home.”

“Members of our Armed Forces answered the call of duty to protect our country and the American Dream, and we owe them the opportunity to realize that dream in return,” said Rep. Salazar. “Just like their American peers, noncitizen veterans have always fought alongside U.S. troops and make the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. I am proud to support this legislation to streamline the naturalization process for veterans who were deported.”

“We must remove cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles for our immigrant veterans and provide them with a pathway to U.S. citizenship,” said Congressman Gonzalez. “I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill and urge my colleagues to keep our promise to those brave men and women who showed unwavering dedication through acts of selfless service. Congress must step up to the plate and honor all who served.”

“Today, I join my colleagues as an original cosponsor of the Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act, to assist immigrant veterans who have successfully started the naturalization process in becoming citizens. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 170,000 members of the U.S. military have been naturalized since 2002. Non-citizen immigrants have served in our nation's military since at least the Civil War, yet the process of gaining citizenship through military service has been plagued with barriers and obstacles - too often resulting in veterans being deported before completing the naturalization process. This legislation would facilitate the naturalization of veterans who have been deported and are currently residing abroad by allowing citizenship interviews and oath ceremonies at ports of entry, U.S. embassies, or consulates, and it would help prevent unnecessary delays for those who are unable to easily return to the United States. It is past time that we as a nation support those who have protected our freedoms and pass legislation that will assist our veterans in gaining citizenship. I look forward to this passage of this legislation in the House and Senate, and it being signed into law by President Biden after it is passed by the House and Senate,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

“All people who volunteer to serve in our armed forces deserve our gratitude and devotion. That’s why I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of the Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act,” said Congressman Eric Swalwell. “Veterans who were honorably discharged should not have to face deportation. This bill would ensure that U.S. citizenship services are available to noncitizen veterans, an important step towards fully honoring their commitment to defend our freedoms.”

“Far too many Veterans have been cruelly deported by the same nation they sacrificed to defend and, as a result, are prevented from attending the same naturalization interviews that could help them gain citizenship because of ambiguous federal policies that bar them from re-entering the country,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth said. “This common-sense legislation would help ensure these Veterans who served our nation honorably receive a fair chance at gaining citizenship without unnecessary delays that prevent them from reuniting with their families.”

This legislation has been endorsed by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

Vargas and Duckworth initially introduced this legislation in February of 2020 in the wake of deported U.S. Marine veteran Roman Sabal—who served for six years and received an honorable discharge after attaining the rank of sergeant—being denied reentry into the U.S. near the San Ysidro Port of Entry to attend his own naturalization interview. Only after a pro-bono legal team helped him sue the Federal Government was he paroled into the U.S. and allowed to complete his naturalization process. While Sabal eventually gained his citizenship in October of 2020, the citizenship interview process remains challenging for deported veterans.

In November 2021, the Administration sought to remedy some of these challenges with a new policy allowing deported veterans to conduct their citizenship interviews at ports of entry. The Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act would codify this policy and expand it to allow deported veterans to also conduct these interviews at consulates and embassies.

This legislation passed the House in the 117th Congress. The Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act would:

  • Direct USCIS to conduct biometric collections, naturalization examinations and oath ceremonies at a port of entry, embassy or consulate for veterans
  • Require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue guidance for biometric collections, naturalization examinations and oath ceremonies for veterans
  • Direct the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State to jointly report to Congress an analysis of the implementation of this policy, the effectiveness of the guidance issued and update the guidance if any shortcomings are identified