HR 3102 Helping Non-US-Citizen Military Personnel Navigate the Immigration Process

HR 3102 Helping Non-US-Citizen Military Personnel Navigate the Immigration Process

It is easy to forget that since the inception of America, individuals who were not US citizens have fought alongside US citizens in every war – from the Revolution and Civil War right on down to our current wars. In bygone ages it was one way for an immigrant community to prove how loyal and American they actually were, for example there were three Irish only units during the Civil War (http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/the-irish-brigade).

“Since the American Revolution, immigrants have been woven into the fabric of our military. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the foreign-born composed half of all military recruits by the 1840s, and were 20 percent of the 1.5 million service members in the Union Army during the Civil War. Reportedly, half a million foreign-born troops from 46 countries served in World War I, amounting to 10 percent of the U.S. armed forces. During World War II, Congress expedited naturalization applications of noncitizens serving honorably in the U.S. armed forces, exempted them from existing age, race, and residence requirements, and ‘eliminated the requirement for proof of lawful entry to the U.S.’ Noncitizens served in the Vietnam, Korea, and Desert Storm conflicts, and immigrant service continues to be of vital importance in the post-September 11 period of conflict. Roughly 70,000 noncitizens enlisted into active duty service between 1999 and 2008, representing about 4 percent of all new enlistments. As recently as 2012, there were 24,000 noncitizens in the military, with 5,000 [lawful permanent residents (LPRs)] LPRs enlisting every year…. Overall, there are about 608,000 living foreign-born veterans of the U.S. armed forces from all over the globe,” (http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf). Throughout our history it has been and still is Congress that grants permission and sets the requirements for non-US-citizens to participate in the military. To learn more about the current requirements, go to page 14 of the above pdf.

Despite service to their adopted home, many service members and Veterans do not gain assistance navigating the complex immigration process, which many people need legal help to complete, and which can prove to be life changing if the service member or Veteran gets into legal troubles or other situations that can result in deportation. It should be noted that having a clear criminal history is a requirement for getting into the military and many experts argue that legal problems often arise in part due to the experiences war exposes people to. The well documented struggles transitioning out of the military to civilian life as well as the mental health struggles of Veterans apply regardless of the individual’s citizenship status (http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf).

HR 3102 aims to rectify this injustice by creating an “Office of Service Member Naturalization” within the Department of Defense (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3102/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+3102%22%5D%7D&r=1). The purpose of this office would be: “(1) to identify members of the uniformed services, including new recruits, who are not citizens of the United States; (2) to inform such members of the availability of naturalization assistance to facilitate such members in becoming citizens; (3) to help such members complete the naturalization process before their separation from the uniformed services; and (4) to coordinate points-of-contact at military installations to ensure that personnel who are responsible for assisting members through the naturalization process successfully complete their assignments,” (source: see above). These points of contact would make the necessary forms (Form N–400, Application for Naturalization, and Form N–426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service) available and would, “assist members of the uniformed services, including new recruits, who are not citizens of the United States in completing the process to become a citizen of the United States. If, through no fault of the member, a member whose service has been honorable is unable to complete the naturalization process before separation from the uniformed services, the naturalization office shall continue to work with the member until completion of the naturalization process, “(source: see above).

It should be noted that this bill does not impact the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, which the Trump administration referenced ending last week (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world-0/us-politics/trump-immigrant-soldiers-military-army-scheme-deportations-president-considers-scrapping-a7821636.html). Per the Department of Defense, “The Secretary of Defense authorized the military services to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered to be vital to the national interest. Those holding critical skills – physicians, nurses, and certain experts in language with associated cultural backgrounds – would be eligible,” (https://www.defense.gov/news/MAVNI-Fact-Sheet.pdf). In essence this program offers citizenship as an incentive for foreign-born individuals, who have professional skills the military needs, to work with the US military and is a program that primarily has been used to recruit individuals specific to a country the US has a military presence in (https://www.law360.com/articles/941737/sen-urges-mattis-to-honor-citizenship-for-service-contracts; http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/pentagon-considers-ending-program-to-speed-up-citizenship-for-foreign-born-service-members/article/2627677). HR 3102 applies to individuals (the majority of whom came to the US as children) who have voluntarily enlisted into the US military independent of any incentives, regardless of skill levels and generally out of a sense of loyalty, duty and patriotism.

A very interesting and possibly unexpected fact is that, “By the Pentagon’s own analysis, noncitizens have demonstrated commitment to the military beyond their citizen peers. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that “[they] are extremely dependable … some eight, nine, or ten percent fewer immigrants wash out of our initial training programs than do those who are currently citizens. Some ten percent or more than those who are currently citizens complete their first initial period of obligated service to the country.” General Pace’s testimony has been echoed in various reports prepared by and for the military, with one report stating “relative to citizen recruits, noncitizen recruits generally have a stronger attachment to serving the United States, which they now consider to be ‘their country,’ and have a better work ethic.” As service time increases, noncitizens’ retention rates surpass those of U.S. citizens by even wider margins, with the dropout rate for noncitizens reportedly nearly half that of U.S. citizens when service reaches four years. Noncitizen soldiers have also served with great distinction, with immigrant service members accounting for 20 percent of all individuals who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Just like their citizen brothers and sisters, noncitizens have given their lives to protect and serve the United States.” (http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf).

These facts speak for the issue and it is hard to close on a powerful note, but the words of former CA Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher eloquently speak to the issue, “”If you are willing to give your life for your country, your country should be willing to give you citizenship” (http://www.deportedvets.org/).

California is actually doing quite a bit to help Californians who have served and are not US citizens become naturalized and an interesting article on this is: https://www.courthousenews.com/san-diego-leaders-lobby-bring-back-deported-veterans/. A non-profit working to help deported Veterans is: http://www.deportedvets.org/ and the ACLU report referenced earlier is a resource rich in history, information and data: http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DISCHARGED-THEN-DISCARDED-fixed.pdf. If you don’t have an opinion on this issue and thus this bill, I encourage you to gain more knowledge.

HR 2625 Connecting More Veterans with Man’s Best Friend – Dogs…

HR 2625 Connecting More Veterans with Man’s Best Friend – Dogs…

Dogs (like cats) have been part of our human history for thousands of years, the oldest evidence of the bond between human and canine was found in Israel, “a 12,000-year-old human skeleton buried with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup” (https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2009/February/feature1.htm). This does make one wonder, how many of us throughout the centuries have gained succor from the very same hand gesture? And that is the point – the interaction between human and dog is complex, ancient and highly beneficial to humans (to dogs too but that is not the focus of this post).

Known health benefits range from increased walking & mobility, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, increased survival rates post heart attack, lower stress responses & quicker rebounding from stress. Additional benefits are found in terms of reduced anxiety, depression, a better outlook and overall mood. These health benefits also lead to fewer doctor’s visits and less spending on health costs –one study found a savings of $11.7 billion due to people having a pooch. When one looks to specific groups of people, such as children with autism, people with chronic pain, the elderly and veterans, to name but a few groups, one finds additional health benefits unique to that population. (Sources for this paragraph: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2009/February/feature1.htm, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html, https://habri.org/pressroom/20141027, https://habri.org/pressroom/20151214, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/03/09/146583986/pet-therapy-how-animals-and-humans-heal-each-other).

With regards to the health benefits veterans receive from animals, there are studies that look at specific animal interventions (generally using horses or dogs) and there are also studies that look at the benefits a veteran gains from having a service dog as a companion animal – both categories of studies show reductions in anxiety, depression and in the symptoms of PTSD. It is important to state the official VA position is that not enough specific research has been done to warrant deeming a service dog evidence based therapy and thus an official intervention of the VA  – the main reason for this is that the research has not been done, not that the research has found results which do not support the benefits of dogs for PTSD, but have hope – research is in the works (https://habri.org/pressroom/20150921, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/04/461529833/veterans-say-trained-dogs-help-with-ptsd-but-the-va-wont-pay, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp, https://habri.org/pressroom/20150416).

The fact that service dogs for PTSD are not an official VA therapy means that the VA does not provide service dogs to veterans for PTSD, rather outside agencies due. In order for a dog to be a service dog it must be trained to do a specific task that goes above and beyond what a pet normally does and the specific task(s) must benefit its owner and materially improve the life of its owner. Meaning that licks, jumping for joy and loving do not count; rolling over, shaking and catching a Frisbee mid-air do not count, but opening doors, finding an exit, looking around corners or checking perimeters to ensure that no one is there, that no one could be waiting in ambush does count. Currently the VA is experimenting with pushing its definition to allow the mental health issues from PTSD to qualify someone for the benefit of a service animal (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp) and in the words of VA Secretary David Shulkin, “I’ve seen the impact that these dogs can have on veterans and so I’m a believer. I don’t want to wait until the research is there. If there’s something that can help our veterans, we want to be pursuing it,” (http://www.military.com/benefits/2017/05/19/va-service-dogs-mental-health.html).

So let us pursue H.R. 2625 the “Wounded Warrior Service Dog Act of 2017” which would, “Subject to the availability of appropriations provided for such purpose, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly establish a program, to be known as the ‘K–9 Service Corps Program’, to award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations to assist such organizations in the planning, designing, establishing, or operating (or any combination thereof) of programs to provide assistance dogs to covered members and veterans” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2625/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2625%22%5D%7D&r=1). For the sake of clarity, these grant monies would be open to any nonprofit – the use of “wounded warrior” in the title of this bill is not in relation to the Wounded Warrior Project non-profit agency. The bill is a quick read and has clear requirements for the non-profit to show that it is capable of working with service dogs as well as veterans, that the non-profit is certified by or meets the standards of the Assistance Dogs International, the International Guide Dog Federation and that the animals are humanely treated (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2625/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2625%22%5D%7D&r=1).

This bill has 29 co-sponsors, 2 of whom are Republicans and one of whom is San Diego’s Scott Peters. Rep. Duncan Hunter is not a co-sponsor, so let us request that Mr. Hunter become one. All the support Rep. Hunter gives to the Coast Guard, his support for Veterans (to date Hunter has introduced 12 bills into this Congress, 3 have to do with the Coast Guard and 2 have to do with Veteran issues/respect for Veterans), the importance of him having served (Hunter used to end his outgoing message with the Marine’s ‘oorah’ chant), the fact that he represents a district with a high number of Veterans and the fact that he does believe government funding is appropriate in certain situations (Hunter introduced HR 1407 this Congressional term, which would give interest free loans to US mining companies for the mining of rare minerals) makes Rep. Hunter a perfect candidate for co-sponsoring this bill, which is under review in the Armed Services Committee, on which he sits.