The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not know how many noncitizen veterans it has deported over the last five years.
Noncitizens who serve in the U.S. military may be eligible for citizenship. If a noncitizen veteran violates immigration law, ICE may seek to remove the veteran from the country. However, ICE policies require it to take additional steps prior to removal actions, such as considering their service record.
The GAO investigation found that ICE did not consistently follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings from fiscal years 2013 through 2018. Consistent implementation of its policies would help ICE better ensure that veterans receive appropriate levels of review before they are placed in removal proceedings. Additionally, ICE has not developed a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters during interviews, and in cases when agents and officers do learn they have encountered a veteran, ICE does not maintain complete electronic data. Therefore, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans’ cases.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have policies facilitating the naturalization of noncitizen service members and veterans, and provide informational resources to noncitizen service members seeking naturalization. The number of military naturalization applications received by USCIS declined sharply from fiscal years 2017 to 2018, resulting in a decreased number of applications approved in fiscal year 2018. USCIS and DOD officials attributed this decline to several DOD policy changes that reduced the number of noncitizens joining the military.
GAO recommends that ICE takes action to ensure consistent implementation of ICE’s policies for handling cases of potentially removable veterans; develop and implement a policy or revise its current polices to ensure that ICE agents and officers identify and document veteran status when interviewing potentially removable individuals; and collect and maintain complete and electronic data on veterans in removal proceedings or who have been removed.
DHS concurred with the recommendations stating that ICE plans, among other things, to update its guidance and training materials to include information about military service. With respect to the second recommendation, DHS said ICE plans to review and clarify existing guidance on the issuance of NTAs to veterans. Regarding data collection, ICE plans to add data elements for veteran status to its existing systems.