Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement during a Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship hearing on "The Impact of Current Immigration Policies on Service Members and Veterans, and their Families:"
"Immigrants have served in the U.S. armed forces in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, in 2016, there wereapproximately 511,000 foreign-born veteransof the armed forces residing in the United States.The children of immigrants also make up a substantial portion of today’s veteran population.
"Every day, these brave men and women risk their lives in service to our country. We rely on them to keep our nation safe, to provide stability in politically fragile regions, and to protect U.S. global interests.In return, we must honor their sacrifices, ensure that they and their families are supported, and give them every opportunity to become U.S. citizens.
"Unfortunately, as a result of the unforgiving nature of our immigration laws, and numerous policy changes implemented by the Trump Administration, it appears that the opposite is happening.
"Under the Trump Administration, the Department of Defense and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have implemented numerous policy changes that have undermined Congress’s clear intent to provide an expedited naturalization process for military service members and veterans.
"For example, in October 2017, the Pentagon made it more difficult for military service members to receive a certification of honorable service, a document which is essential to expedite the naturalization process. Previously, certifications could be issued as soon an individual began active duty service. Now, however, one must first complete at least 180 consecutive days of such service, or one year in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.
"In addition, whereas certifications could previously be issued by any supervising officer, they must now be certified by the Secretary of the applicable military branch, or a commissioned officer serving in a specific pay grade.
"These changes are unnecessary and cruel. They serve no purpose but to make it harder for individuals serving our country to become citizens. And they have had a measurable impact. The total number of military naturalizations declined 44 percent, from 7,360 in fiscal year (FY) 2017 to just 4,135 in FY 2018.
"In addition, because USCIS has dramatically cut the number of its international offices, naturalization services for those who are stationed overseas have become much more limited. USCIS used to provide such services at 23 international offices in 20 countries. But in a change that took effect last month, this was cut to just 4 offices, with USCIS personnel on site to conduct naturalization interviews only one week per calendar quarter.
"Why would we make it more difficult for the men and women who are risking their lives in service of this country to become permanent members of our society? This is both shortsighted and cold-hearted.
"During this hearing we will also discuss the plight of U.S. veterans who struggle with the transition back to civilian life and who are eventually deported from the country they so dutifully served. Many of these veterans have been removed from the United States as a result of convictions or other transgressions tied to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injury, and other physical trauma suffered while on active duty that make the transition back to civilian life extremely difficult. We can all agree that individuals who are rightfully convicted of a crime should serve any reasonable sentence imposed. But once that sentence has been served, we should not simply turn our backs on those who sacrificed so much in service to our country.
"There must be a better way to address these cases. Our veterans deserve better and we owe it to them to find a way to bring compassion and discretion back into our immigration laws.
"I want to end on a positive note.Last week, I introduced the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act, along with Ranking Member Collins—who has served honorably in the Armed Forces himself—as well as several of my esteemed colleagues, including Subcommittee Chair Lofgren and Ranking Member Buck.
"This bill will fix the problem that resulted from a policy change announced in August, that takes effect today, which made it more difficult for children of U.S. citizens serving our country abroad to be recognized as U.S. citizens.Our bill would reverse this misguided policy and would make it easier for such children to be granted automatic citizenship. I am glad that we were able to work together across the aisle to introduce this important legislation, and I look forward to advancing our efforts in the coming weeks.
"I want to thank Chair Lofgren and Representative Correa for holding this important hearing, and I thank all of today’s witnesses for testifying. I look forward to their testimony, and I yield back the balance of my time."