WASHINGTON – House Democrats on Tuesday put up for debate a bill that would make it easier for illegal immigrant US veterans and their families to stay in the country – as Republicans derided the measure as another Biden administration step toward enabling open borders.
The Veteran Service Recognition Act would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish protocols for identifying noncitizen veterans, require immigration adjudicators to consider their service records in deportation proceedings and allow veterans to stay in the US until they conclude.
Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) accused Democrats of using the “flowery” title to “mask the bills’ true meaning,” alleging they would open “a path for criminals” to stay in the country.
“It leads the public to believe we are looking at a bill that would recognize the service of our veterans,” Fischbach said. “But once again, you take a closer look, it becomes painfully clear that this is another push for open borders.”
The act would require DHS to establish an nine-member advisory committee to “provide recommendations to the Secretary of Homeland Security on the exercise of discretion in any case” involved deportation proceedings for active US troops, veterans and their families.
Additionally, it would order the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security to conduct a study to identify the number of noncitizen veterans the US deported since 1990.
Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said the bill offers “necessary reforms that will improve out immigration system,” help clear backlogs and “ensure those who not only have played by the rules, but have sacrificed in the service of our nation can become citizens.”
The bill would also allow the DHS secretary to reverse previous deportation decisions for noncitizen veterans, offering them lawful permanent residence status unless found inadmissible due to an aggravated felony conviction or five driving-while-intoxicated convictions in the past 25 years, according to the bill.
But Fischbach said it should include more criminal convictions as disqualifications and criticized Democrats for shooting down GOP amendments proposed in earlier committee meetings that she said would have barred those convicted of crimes including “illicit trafficking, trafficking and firearms [and] human trafficking.”
“In the Judiciary Committee, several amendments were offered to ensure dangerous criminals did not receive an adjustment of immigration status,” Frischbach said. “Why are my colleagues across the aisle so eager to have criminals on the streets of our communities?”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), an Army veteran, said the bill should block those discharged for bad conduct from receiving citizenship benefits.
“This bill allows those who have committed felonies – bad conduct discharge individuals –to retain their US opportunity, which has never been the case shouldn’t be the case,” Issa said. “If you commit the crimes, you should not be an American. You didn’t serve honorably.”
The bill would also change the country’s citizenship through military service program to allow immigrant troops to apply for citizenship at any point after their first day of military service. Current law requires noncitizen troops to wait one year before applying for citizenship.
The move may help the Pentagon build its forces amid dwindling recruitment rates, with the bill ordering training for military recruiters on steps required for noncitizens to apply for citizenship after enlistment and military lawyers to act as their liaisons with US Citizenship and Immigration Services in citizenship proceedings.
USCIS has naturalized more than 158,000 troops over the past two decades, including 10,600 in fiscal year 2022 alone, according to DHS.
Fischbach said the bill was “just one more example of how deeply unserious my colleagues in the [Democratic] majority are” about addressing the immigration crisis at the southern border.
“In just two short years, the American people have watched as the situation at the southern border has deteriorated into nothing short of a crisis,” Fischbach said. “I would have hoped that my colleagues would treat this situation a little more seriously.”
But McGovern said the bill should receive bipartisan support because supports the military and is endorsed by veterans groups.
“The Veteran Service Recognition Act is actually supported by the American Legion, one of our leading veterans organizations in this country, but I guess that’s not enough for some of my Republican colleagues,” McGovern said.
Fischbach argued the legislation “it is just one more example of the Democrats exploiting a sympathetic population to push their open border policies,” adding that “they should be ashamed.”
“As it is written, DHS does not have to deport nearly anyone [who is a veteran or veteran’s spouse or child], leaving it to the DHS Secretary to exercise discretion,” Fischbach said. “In almost all cases, [DHS] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas has done nothing to ease the immigration crisis in this country. Do we really want to give someone like that more responsibility?”
Calling the bills “straight forward” and “modest,” McGovern claimed Republican opposition to the bills was a political gimmick.
“They blame immigrants for everything: It’s raining out today – they’ll blame immigrants. Having a fight with their spouse? Well, it must be the fault of immigrants. Having a bad day? Let’s blame immigrants,” McGovern said. “That’s their MO, that’s what they have done and it really is offensive. It betrays kind of the highest values of this country.”
“If you risk your life to protect and defend this country, you and your family deserve every opportunity to become a US citizen if desired,” he added.