Serving Those Who Serve Our Country

As the midterm elections have shown, we remain a country deeply divided by our political beliefs. This campaign season, immigration was used in attack ads against political opponents and to stoke fear among voters. The president sent the military to join the National Guard along the southern border in an action initially referred to as “Operation Faithful Patriot” that has since been relabeled simply as “Border Support.” As Veterans Day drew closer, it was clear that with all this rhetoric, one important point was being ignored – many of our military service members and veterans are immigrants themselves or have immigrant family members. They or their families also came to the U.S. for a better life and are now giving back by dedicating their lives to protecting and serving our country.

Immigrants have contributed to the fabric of our society for centuries and our military represents this great diversity. The National Immigration Forum noted that in 2017, around 40,000 immigrants served in the U.S. military and 511,000 veterans were immigrants. And if not immigrants themselves, many service members are relatives of immigrants, both documented and undocumented. They may be a hospital corpsman who dedicated four years of his life to the Navy, hoping to be joined by his wife and newborn baby in the U.S. They may be an Army specialist who met her fiancé or spouse while stationed abroad. They may be a recent medical school graduate and immigrant with specialized language and medical skills, who hoped to give back by enlisting in the Army through the MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) program. They may be a young Marine Corps private hoping to help his undocumented mother gain immigration status.

Service members vow to put country before self, but what if their own family members are at risk of deportation? What does it mean for the service member who hopes to help their undocumented mother gain immigration status to see the government cracking down on asylum-seeking mothers and their children fleeing gang violence? In addition, service in the U.S. military does not necessarily protect non-citizen service members or veterans from deportation, even if deportation is connected to drug addiction that began in response to PTSD from their time in the military.

Immigration attorneys have been helping immigrant military members and their families for the last decade through AILA’s Military Assistance Program (MAP). MAP’s mission is to provide pro bono counsel and peace of mind to members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Every week, MAP volunteers dedicate their knowledge, experience, and time to provide pro bono legal services to active duty service members and recent veterans across the country and abroad. Since its inception, more than 2,000 military families have been matched with MAP volunteer attorneys. Many requests for assistance come from service members with limited income who cannot afford to hire counsel. These cases involve a variety of claims, including green card applications, visas, consular processing, and citizenship applications.

It is important that we recognize the vital contributions that immigrants make to our country, including to our military. As we reflect on Veterans Day, and the sacrifices veterans have made, we encourage AILA members to volunteer with MAP and help a service member by bringing immigration legal expertise and a caring heart to bear on these important cases.

by Reid Trautz and Erin Lynum