LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A bill in Washington is looking to create a clearer path to citizenship for noncitizen veterans.
The Veteran Service Recognition Act passed on the House floor earlier this week, with pushback from congressmen in Arkansas concerned about the criminal threat it could bring to the U.S.
The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to create guidelines to look more closely at noncitizens who are veterans and consider service records during deportation proceedings while allowing these veterans to stay in the U.S. in the meantime.
The legislation text notes the DHS would be authorized to reverse previous deportations for noncitizen veterans, allowing them to come back to the country unless they have been convicted of an aggravated felony or have received five driving-while-intoxicated convictions in the past 25 years.
The four Arkansas congressmen were among more than 200 in the House who voted against it.
The opposition to the bill was a surprise to some Arkansans, like veteran and State Senator Jim Hendren, who spoke out on Twitter about the bill.
“This should be a bipartisan vote, it should not be something controversial,” he said. “To not allow a court- before they deport someone- to even consider the fact that they may have spent years away from their family defending our country’s freedom, to me is… to be honest with you… pretty weak.”
Spokespeople for the Arkansas congressmen told FOX 16 News they were concerned about the serious criminals this leaves out. One spokesperson added that Republicans proposed several amendments to ensure that dangerous criminals did not receive an adjustment of immigration status under this bill, but many of those amendments were rejected.
Three of the four congressmen opposing the legislation provided statements:
This bill opens up the doorway to citizenship for those who have committed major crimes like explosives trafficking, DUI, firearms trafficking, controlled substance trafficking, domestic violence, international child abduction, perjury, and obstruction of justice. Those who come here legally and honorably serve in the armed forces deserve a path to becoming American citizens, which they currently have. However, we must have common sense guardrails in place to prevent those who have committed violent crimes from obtaining citizenship.-Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-01)
Unfortunately, Democrats masked flawed legislation as a pro-veteran bill. Their title conveniently leaves out the loopholes that would provide amnesty for violent criminals. Exploiting those who have served for political points is wrong. I’ve been forthright in my support of comprehensive reforms to fully revamp our immigration policies and secure our border.-Rep. Steve Womack (AR-03)
Under current law, a non-citizen veteran who is convicted of a serious crime is generally ineligible for citizenship. The Veteran Service Recognition Act would create a loophole where DHS could allow these folks to become citizens. I have serious concerns that there are myriad violent crimes and serious felonies that could be pardoned by DHS including physical assault, fentanyl trafficking, robbery, etc. For that reason, I could not support this bill.-Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04)
Congressman French Hill was reached out to for comment, but no response was received.
The bill is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote.