Earlier this month, Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-3) and forty other Democrats introduced the Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1405), a bill to shield current and former members of the U.S. armed forces against deportation or removal from the United States and to let them apply for green cards. Grijalva is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the bill’s co-sponsors include twenty-six other CPC members.
When Homelanders proclaim that they want to protect immigrants, they only mean immigrants from other countries to the United States, not immigrants from the United States to other countries. However, Grijalva’s bill is so broadly written that it would protect veterans in both groups of immigrants — those who were never U.S. citizens in the first place and got deported, and those who emigrated and gave up U.S. citizenship after being discharged.
SEC. 4. Protecting veterans and service members from removal.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, including section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1227), a noncitizen who is a veteran or service member shall not be removed from the United States unless the noncitizen has a criminal conviction for a crime of violence.
As I understand it, this prohibition against removal extends to expedited removal of inadmissible aliens at ports of entry. In simpler terms, not only would non-citizen veterans now in the U.S. not have to worry about being sent away against their will, non-citizen veterans outside of the U.S. could show up at the border without fear of being turned away — whether they intended to stay in the U.S. for a week or for the rest of their lives. This is much better news than other CPC-supported legislation like the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which forced at least one veteran living in another country to renounce U.S. citizenship in order to save his home.
- Introduction: emigrants and the CPC
- Background of the bill
- Green card, if you want one
- No more Reed Amendment gag for veterans
I feel some hesitation at making light of the serious issue which the bill actually intends to address, but many of us here at Brock have developed a rather black sense of humour over the past five years.
In my defence, when the stress of dealing with deportation ruins U.S. veterans’ lives and even drives one of its victims to attempt suicide, I stop and feel simple human sadness, regardless of my views on the U.S. military or other ancillary political issues. In contrast, when the stress of dealing with the U.S.’ “offshore” tax witchhunt ruins some emigrants’ lives and even drives one of its victims to suicide, some Homeland progressives just continue dismissing our issues as “histrionics … of expat bankers who need to open new checking accounts” and make inhuman jokes about playing tiny violins for us.
That’s human nature: it’s hard to sympathise with people if you’ve been fed hateful stereotypes of them. And CPC members have a long history of disingenuously spreading hateful stereotypes of emigrants. Just look at their speeches in support of exit tax bills in 1995 (starting with H.R. 1535). At the time, The New York Times acknowledged that out of roughly seven hundred people per year who renounced U.S. citizenship back then, perhaps a dozen were multimillionaires with tax avoidance motivations. But when have facts and numbers ever got in the way of demonisation?
CPC members smeared emigrants who dared formally transfer their allegiance to the communities where they lived as “billionaire Benedict Arnolds”, while trying to exit tax thousandaires. They raged about people “leav[ing] the country in order not to pay taxes”, while taking aim at people who had left the country in kindergarten. They claimed that we just wake up and “discover one day that the Port Royal Golf Course in Bermuda is our hometown”, but tried retroactively roping Canadians without CLNs back into the U.S. tax system even if they’d committed relinquishing acts decades earlier. And later, CPC members betrayed progressive principles to accuse ordinary wage earners in other countries of abusing “tax loopholes”.
So it’s probably safe to guess that this bill’s benefits for ex-citizens are an accident, though you never know. Back in the 1970s, when emigrants symbolised a cause that Homeland progressives supported, they were much nicer to us: the first bill for the relief of Vietnam War protestor Thomas Glenn Jolley, who’d renounced citizenship in Toronto, was sponsored by future CPC co-founder Ron Dellums (D-CA-9), who praised Jolley for his “extraordinary act”. Jolley’s fellow emigrants, who stayed in Canada and built up lives and taxable assets for themselves, later became the target of hostility from progressives, but perhaps that two-decade hate is coming to an end — witness the doubts about citizenship-based taxation expressed last year by Dellums’ fellow CPC co-founder Bernie Sanders, or the absence of any accusations about diaspora “tax loopholes” in the CPC’s budget presentation last year.
They might finally be coming around — or coming full circle — on U.S. diaspora policy.
This is the third time in the past year that Democrats have introduced these provisions for veterans. Grijalva and twenty-two other Democrats, mostly CPC members, sponsored the same standalone bill in July 2016 (H.R. 5695). Then, in October, two non-CPC co-sponsors of that bill — Mark Takano (D-CA-4) and James Langevin (D-RI-2) — included it in Title VIII of their Supporting, Employing, and Recognizing Veterans in Communities Everywhere Act (H.R. 6062). These bills aim to protect both veterans who moved to the U.S. without authorisation, and those who once had legal status but were ordered deported. However, both of those bills died in committee.
Now that Republicans control not just Congress but the presidency as well, a bill sponsored only by Democrats probably has even less chance of passing than it did last year. But you never know: even Donald Trump has suggested he’d be open to some sort of protection for non-citizen veterans, stating back in September when he was campaigning that “I think that when you serve in the armed forces, that’s a special situation, and I could see myself working that out”. So it’s not impossible that Grijalva’s proposal, or a variant of it, might become law one day in the next four years, though I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
The only extant variant of Grijalva’s proposal of which I’m aware is a far weaker competing bill by Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-7), the Restoring Respect for Immigrant Service in Uniform Act (H.R. 5012 last year, H.R. 1470 this year). It requests DHS to exercise discretion in removing veterans, rather than barring their removal outright.
In addition to the provisions regarding removal, Grijalva’s bill directs DHS to allow non-citizen veterans to apply for green cards. It would not require non-citizen veterans to apply for green cards. The bill has no provisions to give work authorisation to non-citizen veterans except if they apply for green cards. Of course, the ones who want to live and work in the U.S. will have no hesitation about going ahead and applying for those green cards if this bill passes.
However, some non-citizen veterans, who have already built or rebuilt lives outside the United States which they don’t wish to uproot again, just want to visit the United States instead of living and working there. I believe they would be able to rely on the protection against removal in §§ 3 and 4 of the CPC bill without having to obtain a green card (which would otherwise snare you back into the U.S.’ citizenship-based taxation net). Perhaps you might not even need a visa, though one would be useful for convincing an airline to let you board. Imagine if you could just come to the U.S., stay as long as you like, and then go back home to your country of citizenship after your visit.
The CPC bill has one more curious side effect: it would allow ex-citizen veterans to tell DHS and the State Department precisely why they renounced citizenship, without fear of Reed Amendment consequences.
Currently, if DHS determines that you renounced citizenship for the purpose of avoiding taxation by the United States, then the Reed Amendment says you can’t enter the country even for a visit — but because the IRS can’t share the relevant tax information with the rest of the U.S. government, DHS officials have told Congress that they can make only determinations under the Reed Amendment if you directly announce your motivations to some part of the U.S. government which communicates with DHS about such things, like the State Department.
Among the tens of thousands of people who have renounced U.S. citizenship in the past two decades, only two people have been brave or foolish enough to make such an announcement. For everyone else, it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell”. This allows State Department officials to pretend that they don’t know why so many emigrants are giving up U.S. citizenship. (It’s unclear if DHS thinks “avoiding incomprehensible paperwork and obscene penalties” is equivalent to “avoiding taxation”. Understandably, no one wants to try their hand at convincing DHS of the distinction.)
But § 3(a)(1)(B) of the CPC’s bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to cancel the removal of all non-citizen veterans who have not committed violent crimes or national security offences, even if some part of 8 USC § 1182 — including (a)(10)(E), the Reed Amendment — makes them otherwise inadmissible. In short, veterans would be exempt from the Reed Amendment and thus free to speak their minds.
However, CBP officials could theoretically try to circumvent the protections this bill offers by pressuring arriving non-citizen veterans to withdraw their application for admission to the U.S. and go back to their point of origin voluntarily.
I’m thrilled to see Democratic legislators proposing ideas to help emigrants, even accidentally, and even if they don’t benefit me directly. Perhaps Democrats Abroad will take a break from telling us how great FATCA is to say a few kind words about this bill and try to increase its (probably slim) chances of passing — though after their failure to support Patty Judge against Chuck Grassley back in November, I’m not holding my breath.
On a more serious note, Homelanders often try pit immigrants to the U.S. against emigrants from the U.S. in a game of “let’s you and him fight”. They falsely portray people who give up U.S. citizenship as spitting in the faces of those who want U.S. citizenship, and pretend that concerns about the U.S. by people who don’t live there are proven invalid by the mere fact that others do chose to live there.
In the face of such sentiments, it’s worth remembering and repeating: every immigrant is some other country’s emigrant (and vice-versa), and wherever immigrants choose to move, they just want to get on with their lives without the fear of making a mistake, getting in over their heads, and watching helplessly as incomprehensible bureaucracy and blind enforcement of badly-designed laws takes away the things they’ve worked so hard to build up for their families.