Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe January 18, 2023

New ICE policy intended to protect veterans from deportation, advancing Biden’s promise

On the 2020 campaign trail, President Joe Biden promised to protect from deportation immigrant veterans, immigrants active in the military, and their families.

Immigrants who join the military must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; they cannot be in the country illegally. But green card holders can be deported if they are convicted of certain weapons crimes, drug crimes or domestic violence. 

In 2008, the Defense Department created the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program allowing certain immigrants without a legal status, including people under Temporary Protected Status and in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program ended in 2016 over security concerns.

In October, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reached a settlement agreement in a class action case with members of the military program; the settlement allowed eligible members to become naturalized citizens.

Usually, people have to be green card holders for at least three to five years before being eligible to apply for naturalization, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Military members can be fast-tracked for this process. 

The number of naturalized service members increased from around 4,500 in 2020 to more than 10,600 in 2022. Once an immigrant becomes a citizen, they cannot be deported, unless they became citizens fraudulently.

For decades, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been expected to consider a person's military service before deporting them. But a 2019 Government Accountability Office report found that ICE did not consistently follow such policies before starting deportation proceedings against veterans. 

From 2013 to 2018, ICE placed 250 veterans in deportation proceedings and deported 92 of them, the report said. PolitiFact did not find publicly available data on how many veterans or military service members have been deported since 2018. 

To address the report's findings, ICE in May created an official agency-wide policy directing agents to consider a person's military service before starting a deportation process. Under the policy, barring extenuating circumstances, agents:

  • Must ask every immigrant if they have served, are currently serving or have an immediate family member in the U.S. military;

  • Shouldn't start deportation processes against service members who are eligible for naturalization; and

  • Shouldn't seek to deport active members of the military. 

The policy also created training requirements and reporting systems for ICE agents to follow when dealing with immigrant veterans or service members.

In February, the departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Defense created an online platform under the Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative to help immigrant members of the military gain legal support, naturalization or humanitarian parole — if they have been deported.

Although there has been progress on Biden's promise to protect military members from deportation, immigration attorney and retired Lt. Col. Margaret Stock said the government has more work to do to protect veterans from deportation and make the naturalization process more accessible. Customs and Border Protection, another agency within DHS, also does not follow ICE's new guidelines, Stock said. 

The problem is that "everybody focuses only on one agency and doesn't look at all the other agencies that are involved in immigration," Stock said.

Stock said she is representing a veteran who tried entering the U.S. after serving abroad and was placed into deportation proceedings at the airport. 

During the Obama administration, DHS created a program to help military members in U.S. army bases become citizens during basic training and before deployment. The Trump administration ended the program, and it has not been reinstated. 

So far, Biden has directed ICE to not target veterans and to consider their service before deporting them. But experts say more can be done to fulfill this promise, including giving the same directive to another immigration agency.

We'll continue to monitor this promise, but based on the progress we rate it In the Works.

Our Sources

Phone interview, Margaret Stock, attorney and retired lieutenant colonel, Jan. 17, 2023

Email exchange, White House, Jan. 13, 2023, Join the Military, accessed Jan. 17, 2023

NOLO, Grounds of Deportability: When Legal U.S. Residents Can Be Removed, accessed Jan. 17, 2023

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Naturalization Through Military Service, accessed Jan. 17, 2023

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Military Naturalization Statistics, accessed Jan. 17, 2023

American Immigration Lawyers Association, Featured Issue: Denaturalization Efforts by USCIS, Aug. 27, 2021

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Issuance of Notices to Appear, Administrative Orders of Removal, or Reinstatement of a Final Order on aliens with United States Military Service, June 21, 2004

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Actions Needed to Better Handle, Identify, and Track Cases Involving Veterans, June 2019

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE to consider military service when determining civil immigration enforcement, June 7, 2022

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE Annual Report Fiscal year 2022, Dec. 30, 2022

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, DHS, VA Launch New Online Services for Noncitizen Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families, Feb. 7, 2022

House Committee on the Judiciary, Oversight of Immigrant Military Members and Veterans, June 29, 2022

FWD.US, Immigrants Serving in the Military Have Earned Their Citizenship Their Path to Naturalization Should Be Clear, Sept. 14, 2022


Latest Fact-checks