U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “does not know exactly how many veterans have been placed in removal proceedings or removed, or if their cases have been handled according to ICE’s policies,” a federal watchdog report found Thursday.
The new report, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, examined issues around the deportation of veterans who are not citizens. It found that while ICE has policies for handling deportation cases that concern veterans, the agency applies them inconsistently and does not maintain data that tracks veterans.
The watchdog recommended that ICE make changes to implement its current policies consistently, start building an electronic database of veterans in deportation proceedings and take steps to ensure officers are properly identifying and documenting when an immigrant they encounter is a veteran.
Military service has long been an expedited pathway toward citizenship for many legal residents, but not all who serve become citizens. Some veterans do not realize they have to apply once they become eligible through their service, while others may not be eligible based on other citizenship requirements, such as a disqualifying criminal record. From 2013-18, more than 44,000 noncitizens enlisted in the military, according to Department of Defense data.
ICE policies require that when agents and officers learn they have encountered a veteran who they believe may be deportable, they must conduct additional assessments that take the person’s service history into account and get management approval to proceed with the case.
The GAO found ICE placed at least 250 veterans in deportation procedures over the last five years, based on available data. But, the authors noted, the actual number could be much higher, because the agency does not properly track veterans in its systems.
“None of the three ICE components who encounter veterans … maintain complete electronic data on the veterans they identify,” the report states.
It also found that of the nearly 90 veterans who were deported from 2013 to 2018, agents failed to get the required management approval in 21 percent of their cases and failed to elevate cases to headquarters for 70 percent of those that required it.
When asked about the policies in December 2018, officials with Homeland Security Investigations, a law enforcement arm of ICE, told the GAO that they had not been adhering to the two policies, “because they were unaware of the policies prior to [the] review.”
The two policies were from 2004 and 2015.
“Without developing and implementing a new policy or revising its 2004 and 2015 policies to require agents and officers to ask about and document veteran status, ICE has no way of knowing whether it has identified all of the veterans it has encountered,” the watchdog wrote.
In response to questions from the watchdog, according to the report, ICE officials said the policies are intended to provide guidance and direction for handling cases of potentially deportable veterans, but could be updated with additional guidance to ask immigrants about veteran status.
The report was commissioned by four members of Congress in 2017, including Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., now chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Takano and Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., sent a letter to the acting director of ICE Thursday, asking how the agency will make changes based on the report’s findings.
“We cannot allow noncitizen veterans to fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system,” Takano said.
'It's GAME OVER’ Andrew Neil STUNS McDonnell after Labour's catastrophic exit poll result
Senate confirms new Trump ambassador to Russia
WASHINGTON — The United States has a new ambassador to Russia after the Senate voted Thursday to confirm the No. 2 official at the State Department to the post.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan was confirmed by a 70-22 vote. An unusually large number of Democrats supported the nomination in the current impeachment-charged partisan political atmosphere on Capitol Hill. Senate votes on President Donald Trump’s nominees are often much closer and typically fall on strict party lines.
Sullivan will replace Jon Huntsman at the helm of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Huntsman stepped down from the post in August and is now running for governor of Utah, a job he held a decade ago.
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Sullivan’s confirmation comes at a tense time in U.S.-Russia relations that have been damaged by Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and marred by bitter disagreements over Ukraine, Syria and Venezuela. The two countries have also engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions over the past three years.
Sullivan had been the lead U.S. official in talks with Russia on counter-terrorism and strategic security and testified in his confirmation hearing that Russian efforts to undermine democracies must be combated. He said then that he would be “relentless” in confronting Russia over election interference, hostile moves against neighbors such as Georgia and Ukraine, human rights abuses and violations of arms control agreements.
Despite that stance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on a trip to Washington this week that Sullivan would be welcome in Moscow. “We know him as a very highly professional diplomat; we’ll be happy to cooperate with him,” Lavrov told reporters at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
But Sullivan, who held senior positions in the Justice, Defense and Commerce departments in both Bush administrations, is perhaps more widely known from the Ukraine-related impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Sullivan was the official who delivered the news to former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch that Trump had lost confidence in her and that she was being recalled early from the post. Sullivan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late October that he was given no other explanation for Yovanovitch’s removal and told her that he did not believe she had done anything to warrant her recall.
Asked why he did not oppose Yovanovitch’s ouster or speak out publicly on her behalf at the time, Sullivan said ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president and can be removed with or without cause. He noted that his uncle, a former U.S. ambassador to Iran, had been recalled early from Tehran by the Carter administration for what the family believed to be unfair political reasons.
“When the president loses confidence in the ambassador, right or wrong, the ambassador goes,” Sullivan said, adding that he and Pompeo had tried to push back on Giuliani’s campaign.
Sullivan said he reviewed a package of negative information about Yovanovitch that was given to the department by “someone at the White House” after he and Pompeo inquired about complaints against her from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others. But Sullivan said he concluded the information contained nothing that would warrant action against her.
Many of the Democrats who voted against Sullivan’s ambassadorial nomination, including the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, had earlier expressed concerns about his judgement and handling of the Yovanovitch dismissal.
The Senate is expected soon to vote on the nomination of Steven Biegun to replace Sullivan as Pompeo’s top deputy. Biegun, a former Ford Motor Co. executive, is currently the special envoy for North Korea and has been the lead negotiator with North in now-stalled denuclearization talks. Trump nominated Biegun to the post on Oct. 31, a day after Sullivan’s confirmation hearing.
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