SAN DIEGO — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services welcomed two U.S. military veterans as U.S. citizens during a special naturalization ceremony Wednesday. The two naturalization candidates, both Army veterans who were previously deported but returned to the United States under the Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative. Both of the candidates originate from Mexico.
Mauricio Hernandez Mata served from 2000-2006 in more than 100 combat missions. Some of those missions included battles in Afghanistan. He earned several medals before running into legal trouble. Leonel Contreras enlisted in the Army at age 17 and was honorably discharged. It the past decade he dedicated many hours to mentoring veterans including those that have been deported as well.
The Biden administration’s Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative was established to address the “unjust deportations of noncitizen current and former military service members and qualifying family members outside the U.S. and ensure veteran access to VA benefits and services.”
According to a press release, IMMVI has focused on three primary objectives: 1) Assist previously removed veterans and their family members with their requests to return to the United States; 2) Establish DHS policies that recognize the significance of military service; and 3) Improve access to naturalization services for all noncitizen U.S. military members.
According to DHS, more than 50 deported veterans have returned home through the initiative to date. Since 2002, USCIS has naturalized more than 158,000 members of the U.S. military, both at home and abroad. In FY 2022, more than 10,600 service members were naturalized.
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