Astonishingly, more than 30,000 foreign born detainees face deportation at some 350 facilities nationwide. Nearly half are legal residents who committed crimes that range from homicide to misdemeanor drug possession, and were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement after serving their prison terms.
Reportedly, about 10% of those foreign born detainees, or 3,000, have served in the U.S. military. A large percentage have legal resident status. Some suffer from PTSD, but all who get in trouble with the law will be rounded up by ICE detained, and then deported.
More troubling is the incidence of those who come here as small children with their parents who are encouraged by recruiters to join the Army, lured by the illusion that their military service will serve as their application for citizenship. Imagine their horror when they find a deportation letter in their mailbox upon their return.
Given the need for warm bodies in combat zones, the military reportedly “falsely promises automatic U.S. citizenship,” Associated Content , in return for service which consists of deployment to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. All too often, however, the service member is double crossed and, upon his return to the states, is scooped up, and carted back to the country of his birth.
Others, like Iraq vet Marine Corporal Phillipe Louis Jean, have also been threatened with deportation after they complete their tour of duty. The Marine was court-martialed for an infraction, adultery, not regarded as serious enough to disqualify him for military service, but one egregious enough to prevent him from ever obtaining American citizenship. What is more egregious here the obscene, and wanton exploitation of men in uniform, or their alleged infractions?
There are many who argue that it makes sense to deport anyone who commits a crime, regardless of their immigration status, but doing so renders the argument that prison is intended for rehabilitation obsolete.
Some even think that if someone is here illegally, they should be deported for jay walking. Too often, immigrants are used as human shields, and scapegoats for pre-existing larger social, and economic issues. Too often, nuance is lost as are important legal, and constitutional distinctions between undocumented immigrants and legal residents. Increasingly, those who serve our country, and are prepared to pay the ultimate price to defend us face harassment by ICE, detention, and deportation, not just veterans of Iraq either.
Many who have served this country honorably are now being held in immigration facilities thoughout the U.S. They are legal residents of a country that wants to cart them off in a crate with a “return to sender” label. Consider the irony, for a moment, in light of the organized crime families of the 1920’s and 1930’s. How many vets of World Wars I and II faced being deported back to Sicily because they were convicted of drug smuggling?
Keep in mind, too, that most of the 3,000 or so service members currently being held were convicted of drug possession, and will have served as much time in immigration detention centers as they did in prison.
A bill introduced by the House in July may soon be a paradigm for how to remedy this gross inequity. HR 2988 provides for the relief of Fernando Javier Cervantes and, if passed, would preclude his deportation. Mr. Cervantes emigrated legally from Mexico to the U.S., more than thirty years ago, at the age of seven, with his mother. He enlisted in the Army toward the end of the Vietnam War, and was honorably discharged.
Now, more than three decades later, Cervantes is a detainee at El Centro Processing Center where he is being held after serving three years for possession of methamphetamine. Most likely, he will spend an equal amount of time in detention as in prison and, barring intervention should the House bill pass, he will be deported back to Mexico, a country he has not seen since 1970.
Justice is clearly a precious commodity, one that is in short supply, and less demand, when American servicemen who participated in the heinous slaughter of two dozen men, women, and children civilians in Haditha, Iraq, back in November, 2005, have escaped prosecution while noncitizen servicemen, many of whom have legal immigration status, are being deported for misdemeanor drug possession.
Clearly, this isn’t about illegal drugs, but a backlash against illegal immigration with the inescapable irony that military recruiters don’t seem to care about the citizenship application status of their recruits when they need to fill their front lines.
JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.