How many veterans has Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested and deported after they put their lives on the line in service of their country? The agency has no clue. No, seriously, it has no idea exactly how many have been deported over the past five years because it hasn’t kept track of it.
“Because ICE does not maintain complete electronic data on potentially removable veterans it encounters, ICE does not know exactly how many veterans have been placed in removal proceedings or removed,” the Government Accountability Office said in a new report. ICE has policies in place that it’s supposed to follow when it decides to take the oh-so-patriotic action to arrest a military veteran, but the GAO found these were not being followed either.
“When ICE agents and officers learn they have encountered a potentially removable veteran, ICE policies require them to take additional steps to proceed with the case,” the report continues. That includes “a 2015 directive [requiring] ICE to give elevated status to cases surrounding individuals with veteran status,” the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs tweeted. But, “GAO found that ICE did not consistently follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings from fiscal years 2013 through 2018.”
This negligence goes far beyond affecting immigrant service members. Late last year, ICE tried to deport a U.S.-born Marine veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, after an off-duty Michigan police captain turned federal immigration officials on him. Lance corporal and tank crewman Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was carrying his passport and a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, yet ICE kept him detained for three days.
The American Civil Liberties Union has estimated that perhaps 200 veterans have been deported after serving their country. “The GAO found ICE placed at least 250 veterans in deportation procedures over the last five years, based on available data,” NBC News reported. “But, the authors noted, the actual number could be much higher, because the agency does not properly track veterans in its systems.”
So what’s this out-of-control agency’s excuse for the report’s findings? “Officials with Homeland Security Investigations, a law enforcement arm of ICE, told the GAO that they had not been adhering to the two policies, ‘because they were unaware of the policies prior to [the] review,’” NBC News continued. "Our government is failing our immigrant veterans—men and women who have dutifully served our nation,” said California Rep. Juan Vargas. “The GAO report reveals obvious instances of mismanagement and policy noncompliance that have led to numerous veteran deportations."