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Veterans and Deportations

There are about 30,000 non-citizens currently serving in the United States Military. Immigrants have always played a vital role in our armed services and have sacrificed a great deal in service to our country. Unfortunately, thousands of foreign born veterans from the Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been deported from the United States, a country they dutifully served. CNN.com tells the story of Howard Dean Bailey, a veteran who served in the Navy during the Gulf War and was deported in 2012. He came to the United States from Jamaica as a teenager to live with his mother, who was a legal permanent resident, which means that he had a green card. He joined the Navy after high school and served for four years, he later got married and settled down in the DC area. His wife is a US Citizen and he has 2 US Citizen children.

Unfortunately, Howard ran into some trouble in the late 1990s after he left the Navy. A Military friend asked if he could send a package to Howard’s house in Virginia. Howard thought nothing of the request and agreed to help out his friend. When the package arrived, he offered to meet his friend and give it to him. As he was driving to meet his friend, Howard was stopped by the police who had been tracking the package. It turns out that the package was filled with marijuana. Howard was arrested and two years later he plead guilty to possession with intent to distribute on the advice of his lawyer in order to avoid the risk of losing a trial and facing a harsher sentence. Howard served in prison for 15 months and when he got out he promised his wife that nothing like this would happen again.

For the next few years, Howard and his family had a happy life. Howard worked hard and made a good living as a truck driver and devoted all his free time to his family. In 2005, Howard decided to apply for US Citizenship. His application was delayed for years so Howard hired an attorney to look into the delay. Howard had mentioned that he had a felony conviction on his application but USCIS had found no documentation of the conviction. The Virginia courts had no record of his conviction and if Howard hadn’t brought it up, USCIS wouldn’t have known. Furthermore, at the time of his conviction no one—not the judge, not his lawyer- told Howard that a felony conviction would affect his immigration status and that he would have to give up his right to be a legal permanent resident.

ICE took Howard from his home in June 2010. He then spent two years in immigration detention fighting his deportation. He was able to prove that his previous lawyer misrepresented him but to no avail since too much time had passed. In 2012, he was deported to Jamaica. He talks to his family on the phone but he hasn’t seen them. His children were traumatized by their father’s incarceration and deportation and are struggling without him.

Howard is an honorable veteran who has fallen victim to our nation’s draconian immigration and drug laws. He had already paid for his crime and it's incredibly frustrating to see him being punished again for circumstances outside his control. His case highlights why change in the system is imperative.

Read more about Howard and other deported veterans at CNN and Politico.