Deported Veterans at School of the Americas Border Watch at Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Arizona. (photo by Ann Wright)
By Ann Wright
Veterans for Peace, an international military veterans organization, has chartered its newest chapter in Mexico, not of veterans of the Mexican military, as it has chartered chapters from the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Okinawa for veterans of their own national military services.
The newest chapter of Veterans for Peace is composed of U.S. military veterans recruited from 30 other countries. These U.S. military veterans did not attain U.S. citizenship that was promised when they were recruited for U.S. military service. After their service in the U.S. military, they ran afoul of law enforcement in some manner and were deported despite their willingness to die for this country.
Many veterans who were ultimately deported, were detained by police after traffic stops or other minor infractions and then turned over to immigration officials. A few committed felonies which, when traced to their root cause, were linked to the traumatic effects of U.S. military service in the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq in the past sixteen years. Like thousands of other veterans, some of the deported veterans were homeless after being unable to function in society following their deployments.
They were sufficiently negatively affected both emotionally and psychologically, by their U.S. military experience that they were unable to complete the administrative paperwork to pursue the promised U.S. citizenship in exchange for their willingness to fight and die in the U.S. military. The number of deported U.S. military is unknown as the U.S government apparently is not asking deportees if he/she is a veteran. Requests by Veterans for Peace and other veterans groups for detention prisons to ask detainees if they are veterans have gone unfulfilled.
Hector Barajas, who founded the Deported Veterans Support house in Tijuana four years ago, has identified 350 deported U.S. veterans born in more than 30 countries, including India, Italy, Mexico and all seven nations of Central America.
In mid-November 2017, ten deported members of the Veterans for Peace chapter in Tijuana, Mexico traveled to the School of the Americas Border Watch in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to participate in the workshops held on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Several deported veterans told of how they were deported. A common theme was the lack of information from the U.S. military on the necessity of applying for citizenship after they were recruited. Several said they thought their service alone in the U.S. military automatically gave them citizenship.
The lack of help from the U.S. military to ensure that the veterans knew they had to officially apply for U.S. citizenship, particularly those suffering from post-traumatic stress and the inability to focus on their own medical needs much less the paperwork for citizenship meant that many U.S. military veterans are living in the U.S. without legal documentation. Their DD Form 214 as evidence of their service in the U.S. military is meaningless to law enforcement and ICE officials who take these veterans to a detention prison or immediately to the border and dump them across.
Some have been medically retired from the U.S. military due to their psychological or physical injuries and are receiving monthly medical payments. Because they have been deported they cannot continue to get medical services from the Veterans Administration as VA facilities are located in the U.S. and they are forbidden from entering the U.S. to continue to receive treatment that many have had for years.
One veterans said he was brought to the U.S. as a child by his parents. He had lived his entire life in the United States. He had a business in the United States before and after serving in the U.S. military. When he was deported he left his family- parents, spouses, children, siblings- behind in the United States.
Several U.S. Congress persons have shown interest in helping resolve the crisis of deported veterans and have visited the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, including Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva. In July 2016, Congressman Grijalva introduced legislation to naturalize for noncitizen veterans. The Veterans Visa and Protection Act (H.R. 5695) would protect U.S. veterans from being unjustly deported, ensure means to naturalization for noncitizen veterans, and provide deported veterans a way home by restoring their green cards and ensuring full access to their medical benefits.
Approximately 30,000 persons from other countries over the past 16 years have been recruited by the U.S. military as its ability to recruit from the population of U.S. citizens has diminished.
Now, the inability of the U.S. military to recruit new members has reached crisis proportions. Over 30 percent of the eligible male recruitment pool in the U.S. cannot meet the lowest educational or physical requirements. Obesity and lack of a high school diploma have excluded many of the easiest recruitment demographic--poor youth of color.
Army Lowers Standards
In a recent controversial move to meet the its recruitment goal, the U.S. Army attempted to widen its recruitment pool by relaxing mental health requirements of recruits. In August 2017, the Army implemented a new program in which recruiters could give waivers for persons with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse in order to meet its recruitment goal of 80,000. In 2016 to reach its goal of 69,000 recruits, the Army accepted lower aptitude scores, granted waivers for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in enlistment bonuses. In order to recruit sufficient numbers, in fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Army paid $424 million in bonuses, up from $284 million in 2016.
A ban on waivers was implemented by the U.S. Army in 2009 when a spike in the number of suicides of U.S. military active duty personnel occurred. Each day, U.S. veterans of all wars, now primarily the wars of Vietnam and the 50 subsequent years are committing suicide at the rate of 22 a day!
An Army spokesperson said there was no change in policy, explaining that waivers that were previously approved at the Department of the Army level were now being given at the Army Recruiting Command level—the same level responsible for ensuring that the recruitment goal is met! The Army refused to provide the Senate Armed Services committee data on how many waivers had been approved. Senator John McCain said he would refuse to approve any political nominees to the Department of Defense until the Army provided the requested information.
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq. Since then she has been writing and speaking for peace and social justice around the world. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."