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ICE to consider military service in deportation cases

ICE said in a statement that U.S. military service of noncitizens and their immediate family members will be taken into account when it decides whether to deport someone.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement will consider military service a “significant mitigating factor that weighs against” taking enforcement action in deportation cases, according to a policy directive published Tuesday.

ICE's directive said that U.S. military service of a noncitizen and their immediate family members will be taken into account when deciding whether to deport someone or take other immigration enforcement measures. 

“ICE values the incredible contributions of noncitizens who have served in the U.S. military,” ICE acting Director Tae Johnson said in the statement. “Through this directive, ICE will consider U.S. military service by a noncitizen or their immediate family members when determining whether to take civil immigration enforcement decisions against a noncitizen.”

In a May 23 memo, the agency was directed that military service is a “significant mitigating factor that weighs against” taking enforcement action in an immigration case, although each case must be decided on the totality of the circumstances. 

The directive also says that civil immigration enforcement actions “generally will not be taken against” those in active U.S. military service unless there are “significant aggravating factors” in the case. 

Military service of immediate family members will also be considered a mitigating factor in immigration cases, according to the memo.

The document also lists procedures for screening, documenting and verifying military status.

ICE said in its statement that prior to this directive the agency had recognized military service as a mitigating factor in case-by-case decisions, but this new directive “formalizes this practice as an official agency policy.”

Length of service, type of discharge and other factors will also be taken into account when considering military service, ICE said.

ICE said the directive also requires it to “collect and maintain relevant data” related to noncitizen current and former service members.

A 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office found that ICE did not consistently adhere to its policies for handling cases involving veterans and “does not consistently identify and track such veterans.”

The administration of President Donald Trump had directed ICE to focus on anyone who was in the U.S. without legal authorization for immigration enforcement.

The government watchdog said it found “ICE did not consistently follow its policies involving veterans who were placed in removal proceedings from fiscal years 2013 through 2018.” 

“Consistent implementation of its policies would help ICE better ensure that veterans receive appropriate levels of review before they are placed in removal proceedings,” it said. “Additionally, ICE has not developed a policy to identify and document all military veterans it encounters during interviews, and in cases when agents and officers do learn they have encountered a veteran, ICE does not maintain complete electronic data. Therefore, ICE does not have reasonable assurance that it is consistently implementing its policies for handling veterans’ cases.”

The GAO looked at 250 veterans that were placed in removal proceedings from 2013 to 2018 and found 92 were deported.