WASHINGTON -- A military veteran who was facing deportation will likely be allowed to stay in the United States after he was released from immigration detention earlier this month, in part thanks to help from Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).
Navy Reserve Petty Officer Elisha Dawkins, 26, entered a pre-trial diversion program on Tuesday that will spare him from federal charges for allegedly lying when he applied for a U.S. passport in 2006, a crime that could have landed him in prison for 10 years.
Dawkins, who served in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in the Army and Navy Reserve, was born to a Bahamian woman in either the U.S. or the Bahamas, but has American birth certificates and knows no other country, his attorney Clark Mervis said. But he has unknowingly faced deportation since the age of 8 after his mother was deported back to the Bahamas.
Dawkins joined the Army after high school and served in Iraq, and then attended nursing school, joined the Navy Reserve and served as a photographer in Guantanamo Bay.
When he returned to the United States, he was arrested for allegedly lying when he applied for a U.S. passport in 2006 -- a crime that could have sent him to prison for 10 years -- and placed in removal proceedings.
Wilson, who represents the district where Dawkins grew up, heard about his story and intervened on his behalf, writing a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
"It was a tear-jerker for me when I realized all of his service," Wilson told HuffPost on Tuesday. "The real tear-jerker was that he spent two months in detention."
Wilson pointed out an administration policy that allows military combat veterans pathways to citizenship, and Dawkins' detainer was lifted on July 1. Under the pre-trial diversion program, charges will be dropped in 90 days for his alleged lying on passport documents.
Now, his lawyer is working toward citizenship for Dawkins.
"If he was starting from scratch, he would clearly be eligible under the provisions that allow combat veterans to naturalize, so we feel like at the end of the day he will be a United State citizen," Mervis said.
But until Congress acts on some type of immigration reform, more veterans could face detention and deportation, Wilson said. The solution would be to pass the DREAM Act, she said, which allows some undocumented young people who entered the U.S. as children to stay if they attend school or join the military.
"What we need to do as a nation is adopt the DREAM Act," she said. "Until we do that, we will always have people who are patriots who will suffer unjustly."