Deported veterans can't get into the country for citizenship interviews. This senator wants answers.

Elizabeth Howe
August 13, 2019 - 11:03 am

Photo courtesy of DVIDS

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Deported Marine Corps veteran Roman Sabal was supposed to return to the United States for a citizenship interview in mid-July. He was denied entry.

Now, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wants the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to explain why. 

Sabal first came to the United States on a visitor visa with one plan — joining the Marine Corps. He succeeded in 1987 and served for six years before being honorably discharged and going on to serve in the Army Reserves. He met his partner, Arnissa Boatwright in Jacksonville, Fla., and they started a family. In his later years, Sabal had to return to his hometown of Belize for diabetes treatment. The second time he did so in the early 2000s, he was not allowed to return to the United States.

Sabal has been working to return to the United States and his family ever since. July's citizenship interview was meant to be a step forward in that process — which has now been delayed for months. 

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"I write to request further information on the administration's policy to permit deported veterans entry into the United States to attend their citizenship interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)," Duckworth's letter to Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Secretary Michael Pompeo starts. 

According to the letter, neither the DHS nor the Department of State could agree on which agency was responsible for granting Sabal's entry. While a 2008 Memorandum of Agreement outlines a list of circumstances that warrant temporary access for noncitizens, it does not include a scenario for deported Veterans seeking entry for citizenship interviews.

“This lack of clarity deprives veterans of a fair chance for citizenship and further delays the naturalization process,” Duckworth writes. “Missing a citizenship interview can add several months to the process – an unnecessary delay that can be avoided with appropriate federal guidance. Media outlets indicate that there are numerous veterans with citizenship cases who will likely face significant challenges to enter the United States for their naturalization interview."

Duckworth's letter requests a list of documentation and information before August 29 to clarify this process including:

  • The guidance followed by the USCIS, CBP, and ICE to grant parole for deported veterans attending citizenship interviews
  • The quality assurance measures followed by each of those agencies to ensure deported veterans are not arbitrarily denied entry into the United States
  • The number of deported veterans who received parole to attend citizenship interviews
  • The number of deported veterans with pending citizenship cases
  • The number of denied parole applications requested for deported veterans seeking entry for citizenship interviews
  • The guidance that USCIS has issued to conduct citizenship interviews at ports of entry and in consulate offices

“Unfortunately, the current policy is ambiguous and complex,” the letter continues. “Given that a veteran who served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces is currently stuck at the San Ysidro port of entry, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure he can attend his naturalization interview."

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