Since the Revolutionary War legal permanent residents of the United States have been eligible to enlist in the military. Almost half the Army enlistees in the 1840s were immigrants, and between 1862 and 2000, more than 660,000 military veterans became citizens through naturalization.

To be eligible to join the United States military you must be a US citizen OR a lawfully admitted permanent resident or in the process of becoming a permanent resident. The most recent counts show that about 8% of the 1.4 million service men and women on active duty are foreign-born. An average of 8,000 non-citizens enlist in the US military services every year.

Non-citizens are not eligible to become officers or to receive a security clearance. However, more than 700 immigrants have been recipients of the Medal of Honor.

While serving in the military can put an immigrant on the path to citizenship, any mark on their criminal record can end that process and get them deported. The Valenzuela brothers, Manuel and Valente both in their 60’s, have found themselves among the hundreds possibly even thousands of US veterans facing deportation.

Manuel, is former Marine. He carried out rescue missions while serving his country in Vietnam. Valente, was an Army soldier. He was wounded while serving his country and received a Bronze Star. Their “crimes” were committed more than 10 years ago and consist of only misdemeanors. Manuel’s offense is for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Valente’s is for domestic violence.

Manuel and Valente were brought to the United States as young children by their citizen mother and Mexican father who became a naturalized US citizen. Both men believed citizenship was granted to them when they took their oath of induction before heading off to war. Click here to read more about the Valenzuela brothers.

Rohan Coombs was born in Jamaica and immigrated to the United States with his family legally as a child. He served in the US military for six years; in Japan, the Philippines, and in the Persian Gulf. In 2008, he was convicted for selling marijuana. He spent eight months in state prison. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found that his “crimes” made him eligible for deportation, and after serving his sentence, he was turned over to ICE for deportation back to Jamaica. Coombs is still fighting his deportation from El Centro in California. Click here to read more about Rohan Coombs.

Dardar Paye immigrated to the U.S. from Liberia when he was 13-years-old. He joined the Army in 1998, served in Kuwait and in a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. He returned to the US where he spent another year and a half with the Army National Guard. In 2008, Dardar was convicted of weapons-related offenses. He served time in federal prison. Dardar was murdered in January 2011, he was 33-years-old.

“When I was in Kuwait, in Kosovo, I was like everyone else who was there, putting their lives on the line,” said Paye. “Now I feel like they just used me for what they wanted, and now they’re throwing me away. I joined the Army because I really wanted to be part of this country, if God wanted me to die, I would have died. I always thought I was a U.S. citizen.” Click here to read more about Dardar Paye.

Rudi Richardson was deported to Germany in 2003 for drug related offenses. Richardson had lived in the United States for 45 years. He was born in a Bavarian women’s prison to a Jewish woman serving time for prostitution, his father was an American serviceman. Rudi was given up for adoption and raised by a military family in the United States. When he was deported, he was sent to a country he barely remembered and whose language he did not speak.

Rudi has turned his life around. He now lives in London where he helps the poor and the homeless through the charity StreetLytes that he founded in 2007. Click here to learn more about Rudi Richardson.

Advocates estimate that thousands of veterans have been deported or are in detention. Government officials say they have no tally but plan to begin tracking the numbers.

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