As of May 2010 there were nearly 17,000 non-citizens on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and up to 8,000 non-citizens enlist every year. If they die while serving they get citizenship and a military funeral. If they don’t and later run afoul of the law, they will find themselves deported, irrespective of their previous service and sacrifice.
Now advocates of non-citizen servicemen and women are trying to change that. Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif) chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is looking into potential changes in immigration law so that those who serve in the military can avoid deportation. According to advocates thousands of veterans have been deported or are currently in detention. Government representatives don’t have any accurate tally of just how many veterans have been affected.
The move coincides with the creation of parallel criminal jurisdictions for veterans–commonly known as veterans courts. Veteran courts hear only those criminal matters that affect service members and dole out specialized sentences that take into account potential health issues (like PTSD) related to their service. There are currently about 30 veterans courts in use with at least a dozen more planned.
The push also coincides with new U.S. Sentencing Commission rules that will make it possible for federal judges to consider a criminal defendant’s military service and mental and emotional condition as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
These rules, however, would not apply to immigration judges.
This distinction begs the question of just what value we ultimately place on military service. We see this issue in great detail in the debate surrounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but it is equally fitting for those immigrants who also serve with distinction.
photo courtesy of The U.S. Army via Flickr