SAN ANTONIO – Veterans for Peace is a global nonprofit organization that seeks justice for military veterans and pushes for peace, not war.
The organization’s newest branch, the “Deported Veterans Advocacy Project,” created the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center in Tijuana, Mexico, to be the first line of help for military veterans that have been deported.
“There is no mystery as to why we’re here, that we’re strategically located at this point so that we can intercept veterans that are being deported,” Robert Vivar with the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans office told KSAT.
For the past several years, Vivar has been helping veterans get situated, assist them in getting their benefits and help them find ways to fight their immigration cases with the goal of being allowed back into the United States.
“When you get deported, you get deported practically with nothing,” Vivar said. “You don’t have family, you don’t have money, you don’t have a support system to assist you, it is very drastic the consequences that they face.”
Currently, the office is helping about 50 veterans who have been deported to other countries around the world, the majority of whom are in Mexico.
“It’s difficult for them to get back on track but that’s why we are here for,” Vivar said.
Recently, the office has been getting calls from current active military members asking for help.
“They are seeing a lack of assistance in obtaining their citizenship while they are serving,” Vivar said.
In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act was created to provide any non-citizen who has served honorably in the U.S. military a path to citizenship regardless of their immigration status.
According to a recent American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, a 2017 Trump Administration policy made it nearly impossible for non-citizen U.S. military members to obtain expedited citizenship.
The ACLU reported that the policy caused a 72% drop in military naturalization applications.
In August, a federal court ruled in favor of the ACLU saying that a path of citizenship can’t be denied to U.S. military members.
Another misstep has been the handling of undocumented veteran cases by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
In 2019, a Government Accountability Office report revealed that from 2013 to 2018 ICE had not adhered to a policy requiring a service record review before deporting veterans and had not kept track of how many undocumented veterans have been detained and deported.
As for those who have been deported already, immigration lawyer Lance Curtright says it’s a case-by-case situation.
“There are some crimes you cannot come back from and there are others where you can,” Curtright said. “You have to look at the person’s individual circumstances and to see whether a family member can petition for the person to come back.”
Some in Congress have tried to help deported veterans out by drafting bills like the 2017 Repatriate our Patriots Act that would have created a path for citizenship for veterans who had been deported for criminal offenses. The legislation has never made it past a subcommittee.
“I just think there’s not enough heat from us as U.S. citizens to make it happen,” Curtright said.
The chances for many to return back at this point is a very hard process to fight, and only a handful have actually succeeded. Many can actually only come back in death as they can be buried with full military honors.
In the meantime, Veterans for Peace and Vivar continue to help as much as they can and make sure nobody gets left behind.
“We strongly believe that when a soldier lifted up that right hand and took an oath on enlistment, which is very similar to the oath of citizenship, at that point, they were proving their loyalty and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and should be considered a U.S. national,” Vivar said.