Among the hundreds of thousands of people deported each year is a group rarely heard about – so-called “banished vets.”
They are men and women who served in the U.S. military as legal permanent residents, and who got into trouble with the law once they returned to civilian life, and as such face deportation because they had not yet become naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The exact number of “banished vets” is unclear, but the newspaper said estimates ranged from several hundred to some 3,000.
The newspaper noted that there is a strong link between post-traumatic stress, and offenses that often end up landing veterans in deportation.
Bi-partisan efforts to pass legislation protecting green-card veterans from deportation have failed.
Green-card veterans had protection before 1996 amendments that took away the discretion that judges had to hear the circumstances surrounding a veteran’s run-in with the law and grant mercy, according to the Inquirer.
One example is Neuris Richard Feliz, a 29-year-old power generation specialist who spent a year under mortar fire in Iraq. Feliz, the newspaper noted, keeps pictures in a closet of “corpses shredded by Iraqi roadside bombs.
Feliz, originally from the Dominican Republic, received medals for his heroism. He faces deportation for beating a man with an ax handle while he was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. He served a three-year jail sentence and now lives in Lancaster, Penn., the newspaper said.
Feliz obviously was on a downward spiral upon returning to the United States in 2005, but he was never diagnosed, the Inquirer said.
He went on a rum and beer binge, and the fateful moment came one day when he arrived at the home of a girlfriend to find another man there waiting for him, according to the newspaper. After a heated argument, Feliz hit the man on the leg with an ax handle he retrieved from his car, the newspaper said.
The victim’s statement in the courtroom said that he had suffered “bruises, swelling, and soreness to both legs” and missed two days of work.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which handles deportations, was quoted in the Inquirer as saying the agency has “prosecutorial discretion for members of the armed forces who have honorably served our country.”
Feliz wrote a letter to the Army urging them to take note of his “excellent and credible career” and saying he understood that he had committed a serious offense, but wanted them to consider “another way out…of this tragedy I’m living.”
Feliz is due in immigration court on Nov. 27. His attorney, the Inquirer said, will argue that the Texas’ penal code’s definition of assault does not coincide with that of immigration law.
The attorney, Troy Mattes, said his client fought for the freedom of all Americans in an overseas war.
Feliz did his part “fighting for the freedoms we enjoy back home,” he said.
“That should at the very least permit him the opportunity to remain in this country,” he added. “I think he has earned the chance.”