Bill to ‘repatriate’ deported veterans gets new life in Democratic House

Bipartisan bill would provide path to citizenship for immigrant veterans deported after committing nonviolent crimes

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, was one of two lawmakers to re-introduce a bill this week to help immigrant veterans gain permanent legal status in the U.S. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two lawmakers have revived a bipartisan bill to bring deported veterans back to the United States as permanent legal residents and open up an expedited path to citizenship for pre-9/11 noncitizen veterans.

This week, GOP Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of Texas reintroduced their bill from last Congress — the “Repatriate Our Patriots Act.” It had floundered in 2017’s GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee.

But the former Republican committee chairman, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, retired earlier this year.

Now Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York holds the committee gavel, and Gonzalez thinks the bill has a fighting chance to pass the House.

Watch: Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley join protest for immigrants in limbo

“I think people are much more receptive in a Democratic-controlled Congress,” Gonzalez told The Monitor in McAllen, Texas. “[Goodlatte] blocked it because he saw it as an immigration bill. I don’t see it as an immigration bill. I see that bill as a veterans bill. I think we have a responsibility to people who wore our uniform and fought for our freedom, and I think it’s one of the most shameful things we can imagine, deporting a veteran who was honorably discharged.”

Young has likewise indicated that he sees the bill through the lens of veteran protections.

“If you are willing to put your life on the line to defend this great nation and its values, you should be able to become a U.S. citizen,” Young told the Military Times. “It is inexcusable that service members who risked it all to protect us would be put through the deportation process.”

Even if it passes the House, the measure would still face long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate and on the desk of a president who has built his campaign messaging on being tough on both immigration and crime.

The bill would allow veterans who served honorably in the military but who committed nonviolent crimes after their discharge to remain in the country after they have completed their prison terms.

The proposal does not include veterans who were convicted of murder, rape, child abuse or terrorism, and it excludes immigrants in legal trouble while serving in the military.

For veterans who have been deported, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to allow them to return to U.S. soil as legal permanent residents with the chance of becoming citizens.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. immigration officials have helped over 100,000 immigrant service members gain citizenship. But some who did not complete their paperwork, or who served before that time period, still live in the U.S. in a legal gray zone.

Young and Gonzalez’s bill would grant them permanent legal status with a path to citizenship.

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