Representative Ruben Gallego and a group of veteran members of Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that could help deported veterans return to the U.S. and reunite with their families. The bill would also prevent the removal of service members and veterans in the future.
“As a vet myself, I feel like all veterans are part of my constituency. I believe we’ll get bipartisan support on this,” Gallego, who represents Arizona's 7th District, told Fox News Latino.
The issue came onto Gallego's radar after attending a Skype conference organized by a group of students at Arizona State University that included some deported veterans living in Tijuana, Mexico. Gallego said he heard their stories and became committed to help change things for them.
The veterans in that event were part of the Deported Veterans Support House, also known as "The Bunker," a group founded in 2013 by the deported veteran and convicted felon, Hector Barajas, that's devoted to the needs of veterans that have been removed from the U.S., a lot of whom suffer from psychiatric issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Gallegos' bill, called the Restoring Respect for Immigrant Service in Uniform Act, urges the Department of Homeland Security to re-admit to the U.S. veterans who’ve been deported and who have not committed a serious crime.
The bill also limits the grounds for deporting members of the armed forces, preventing the removal of anyone who has served at least 6 months in the military and who has not committed a serious crime.
Cosponsoring the bill were Reps. Ted Liu (D-California), Charles Rangel (D-New York), and José E. Serrano (D-New York).
“Immigrants, regardless of status, come to our nation because they believe in the ideals, values, and opportunities that exist here," Serrano said in a statement. "Some feel so strongly about their adopted nation that they choose to serve in our armed forces, and we should honor and respect that service. This bill addresses the inconceivable situation that some veterans find themselves in after their service – deported and forced to separate from their families."
Serrano added, "That our country deports those who have defended our flag and lived up to our nation’s most important ideals tells you all you need to know about how broken our immigration system currently is."
Many of the deported veterans, according to the lawmakers, fell on bad times after their service in the military and wound up committing crimes.
“We’re punishing our veterans three to four times," Gallego said. "These are guys who’ve served their country – been in combat and many then suffer from PTSD, then they self-medicate, which leads to incidents or crimes.”
A 1996 immigration law gives authorities the grounds to deport any noncitizen resident who has an aggravated felony — including writing a bad check or getting into a barroom brawl.
The bill also includes language that would encourage the president to use executive power to allow currently deported veterans to apply for citizenship.
Gallego believes the country owes it to the men and women he calls "green card soldiers."
“There’s urgency to this issue," he told FNL. "Even one deported vet is too many. These men and women need veterans' services, and we need to honor our commitment to them. The fact is, this isn’t an immigration issue, it’s a veterans issue.”