Gonzalez introduced the Repatriate Our Patriots Act last session, but it was blocked by then-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia. Goodlatte did not seek re-election in the November midterm election.
Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, is now the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. This, coupled with Congress now under a Democratic majority, has Gonzalez hopeful that his bill has a chance to at least make it past the House.
However, he’ll likely face similar roadblocks as last session, especially if the bill makes it to the still Republican-controlled Senate. Last year, the perception of the bill as immigration reform narrowed bipartisan support, Gonzalez said.
“I think people are much more receptive in a Democratic-controlled Congress.” he said. “(Goodlatte) blocked it because he saw it as an immigration bill. I don’t see it as an immigration bill. I see that bill as a veterans’ bill. I think we have a responsibility to people who wore our uniform and fought for our freedom, and I think it’s one of the most shameful things we can imagine, deporting a veteran who was honorably discharged.”
Specifically, Gonzalez’s bill protects veterans who were honorably discharged who are not convicted of violent crimes, and allows veterans who are already deported to begin a naturalization process abroad.
According to a 2018 report from the Texas Civil Rights Project, in 2008 more than 1 in 4 returning service members suffered from mental health conditions. In 2016, that number was nearly 1 in 3. Gonzalez said the most common reason veterans find themselves in deportation proceedings is due to problems with substance abuse, which is high among the general U.S. veteran population. Gonzalez argued that by deporting U.S. veterans, the government fails to provide them with the services they were guaranteed upon honorable discharge.
“I think we have a responsibility to take care of them,” he said.
The population of deported veterans who would benefit from the bill is just a few hundred, Gonzalez said. Those veterans are spread across 38 different countries with Mexico, the Philippines and Jamaica being the most common.
“I see it as fulfilling a promise to people who served our country,” he said. “On the day that they are discharged they should become U.S. citizens.”