U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth reintroduced three bills to help deported veterans on Thursday.
One of the bills is the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, which would ban the deportation of veterans. The bill would also create a visa program for veterans that have already been deported, allowing them to return to the U.S. as a legal permanent resident and providing them assistance to become U.S. citizens.
Currently, veterans who are legal permanent residents can be deported, if they are convicted of certain felonies.
“These are men and women who fought to defend this country and have been treated very poorly by the very nation they defended and stripped of the liberties and freedoms that they provided to the rest of us,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth spoke passionately about Chicago veteran Miguel Perez Jr., who was deported last year.
“He should have been informed that he could be a citizen when he came home from his first deployment. He should have been told to complete his paperwork when he was deployed a second time. They should have processed it a third time when he came home,” she said. “Three different times, the U.S. government and Department of Defense dropped the ball in Miguel’s case.”
Perez was born in Mexico and moved with his family to Chicago when he was 11 years old. He was among the first troops deployed to Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He served two tours.
When he came back to Chicago, Perez struggled to adjust to civilian life. He suffered from PTSD from fighting in the war. He had severe flashbacks and nightmares. Perez looked for help in the VA hospital, but he felt like he wasn’t taken seriously because his injuries weren’t visible. He started using alcohol and drugs to cope. Perez pled guilty to a drug conviction and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After serving half of his sentence, Perez was released and placed in deportation hearings. He was deported in 2018. Currently, he lives in Tijuana.
Perez said he still has PTSD. However, he lacks access to the medications he needs to treat the illness. Perez says Duckworth’s efforts keep him hopeful.
“Most people don’t understand,” Perez said via text message. “We lived in the country legally. This is not an immigration issue, this is a veteran issue. We have no access to health care, extremely hard to access or benefits.”
Duckworth’s other bills include the Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile Act, which would grant deported veterans permission to re-enter the U.S. to receive medical care from a VA facility for medical conditions resulting from their military service, and the Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System that would help identify noncitizen members of the military and “fast track” their applications for naturalization.
Duckworth previously introduced this package of legislation in 2017.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter at @mizamudio.