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Announcement should be Biden administration’s first step toward reviewing cases and welcoming home all unjustly deported immigrants

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 6, 2021) — The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds the Biden administration’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will work together to return unjustly deported U.S. veterans and family members to the United States, and to ensure that immigrant veterans and their immediate family members are able to remain in the United States and pursue naturalization.

“For decades the U.S. immigration system has deported hundreds of thousands of individuals including U.S. veterans who proudly served their country yet find themselves living in exile in countries they hardly know,” NIJC Associate Director of Policy Nayna Gupta said in response to the administration’s announcement. “These deportations have destabilized families and communities and disproportionately impact Black and Brown immigrants. We are pleased to see the Biden administration acknowledge these harms by committing as a start to returning deported veterans. A fair and legitimate immigration system must include a meaningful chance to come home.”

The announcement from the VA and DHS is an important first step in the Biden administration’s plans, as recently reported by Politico, to redress unjust deportations that have separated families and forced people to leave behind their homes, businesses and communities in the United States. NIJC released a white paper in April 2021 outlining additional steps President Biden should take to establish and maintain a meaningful process for return for those unjustly deported under prior administrations.

Among the people featured in NIJCs’ white paper were Howard Bailey, a U.S. Navy veteran who was deported based on a sole, decade-old marijuana conviction which has since been pardoned by the governor of Virginia — a state which also recently decriminalized the drug. Mr. Bailey testified about the impact his deportation has had on his family in Virginia last week during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on immigration policies for U.S. military members, veterans, and their families.

“We are hopeful that the VA-DHS announcement means that Howard will be able to return home to his family very soon, and that the administration will expand its scope to correct old injustices that have had similar impacts on non-military families,” Gupta said. “For example, Kenault Lawrence, another former Virginia resident, also has been separated from his U.S. family for 10 years as a result of overzealous policing of marijuana. Kenault, his wife, and his son also deserve an opportunity to have their family together again.”