THE BLOG
05/15/2010 12:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dishonorable Discharge: Stop the Deportation of U.S. War Veterans

There is no greater sacrifice than putting your life on the line for your country - even when it's your adopted homeland. So why are there so many non-citizen war veterans being deported after giving years of service in multiple wars?

Citizenship is not a prerequisite for military service, and there is little distinction as legal permanent residents (green card holders) engage in combat alongside citizens. Upon re-entry into the United States, legal permanent residents follow the same procedures as citizens, and are not inspected by immigration officials. But according to Banished Veterans, there are approximately 2,000 to 3,000 non-citizen veterans facing deportation.

Rohan Coombs is one such non-citizen veteran. Born in Jamaica, West Indies, Mr. Coombs came to the United States at the age of thirteen as a legal permanent resident. Some time after graduation from high school, Mr. Coombs enlisted in the Marine Corps and was given assurances from his recruiter that he would be on the path to citizenship. Mr. Coombs gave six years of service to the Marine Corps, from 1987 to 1993, and was deployed during the Persian Gulf War. Upon his return, however, he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and began using marijuana. Subsequently, he was charged with possession of marijuana for sale and sentenced to prison. Three months into his sentence, Mr. Coombs signed a plea agreement on the advice of his counsel, in the hopes of reducing his sentence to eight months, but was totally unaware of the deportation consequences. Now Mr. Coombs sits in El Centro, a detention facility operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Diego, California as he awaits deportation to Jamaica, even though he has resided in the United States for almost thirty years.

Mr. Coombs' attorney, Craig Shagin, has filed an appeal on his behalf. According to Mr. Shagin, "There is something in American law known as a non-citizen national, and it's our position that veterans--that is, anybody who serves in the United States military--from the moment they take the oath of allegiance, is in fact a non-citizen national. The reason for that is that when they go overseas in uniform, they are in fact treated under both American law, international law, and the law of war as American nationals. That is, they're putting on the emblem and the insignia of the United States. "

Non-citizen veterans like Mr. Coombs need treatment for their disabilities, not a ticket out of the country.